New AGB Survey Explores Questions and Recommendations for Higher Education Governing Board Diversification

By AGB March 12, 2024 Press Releases
Press Release

For Immediate Release
Morgan Alexander

The survey highlights the value of diverse demographic, professional, and other characteristics on boards’ ability to effectively oversee and support colleges and universities in the current environment.

WASHINGTON, DC (March 12, 2024)—Today, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) published Diversifying the Governing Board: An AGB Report, a qualitative survey examining higher education boards’ efforts to expand the diversity of their compositions. Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, and AGB drilled down on this issue via a series of interviews that add insight and contours to quantitative survey data published in 2021. Both surveys found that boards are seeking multiple perspectives based on professional and personal characteristics, but that obstacles persist. AGB is the premier membership organization advocating strategic board governance for college, university, and affiliated foundation governing boards.

“The value of diverse perspectives for teams and for-profit boards is well-documented, and we recognize that governing boards need new and varied voices to overcome the myriad challenges facing higher education right now,” said Lesley McBain, AGB director of research. “This scholarship is an important step in the right direction, and I hope it inspires others to examine their diversification efforts and enhance their boards’ abilities.”

Following are three of the most significant findings:

  • The lack of firmly codified qualifications for board members can lead to misconceptions that limit opportunity (e.g., thinking women are “too busy” to serve on boards).
  • Diversity and qualifications for board membership are not mutually exclusive—ensuring that there are individuals with diverse experiences on the board does not preclude or jeopardize the ability to find board members with other desired qualifications.
  • Minimum giving requirements for board members and/or unwritten expectations for giving were raised by foundation and institution interviewees alike as a hindrance to diversifying boards.

In addition to the survey findings, the report also includes guiding questions and recommended actions to help governing boards advance their diversification goals and carry out their responsibilities. For example, to address whether philanthropic capacity limits the types of individuals who can serve on the board, leadership might consider individually tailored trustee contribution agreements rather than a blanket policy for all.

The report stems from AGB’s most recent board composition survey, Policies, Practices, and Composition of Governing Boards of Colleges, Universities, and Institutionally Related Foundations 2021. In that survey, conducted in late 2020, 97.6 percent of institutionally related foundations, 95.1 percent of independent institutions, and 50.0 percent of public institutions reported that their boards were attempting to diversify their composition. (Many of the latter respondents explained they did not have direct control over appointed or elected board members.)

This report used the above data and 18 interviews with individuals, primarily board professionals who work closely with trustees and administrators at independent institutions and institutionally related foundations, to inform its findings.

“The unfortunate backlash to equity and inclusion efforts across the country obscures the evidence that diversity of experience—whether racial, ethnic, professional, geographic, or other, such as veteran or alumni status—can be a huge boon to boards trying to forecast the future,” said Ellen Chaffee, AGB interim president and CEO. “I hope the report’s data and recommendations will spark action so that governing boards can pursue their diversity goals and prepare for a rapidly evolving world.”

The full report is available on the AGB website and is complimentary for members. This is the latest resource that AGB created to support justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.

About AGB
The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) is the premier membership organization that strengthens higher education governing boards and the strategic roles they serve within their organizations. Through our vast library of resources, educational events, and consulting services, and with more than 100 years of experience, we empower 40,000 AGB members from more than 2,000 institutions and foundations to navigate complex issues, implement leading practices, streamline operations, and govern with confidence. AGB is the trusted resource for board members, chief executives, and key administrators on higher education governance and leadership. Learn more at