Board Responsibility Equitable Student Success

Board Roles and Responsibilities

Explore board responsibilities for equitable student success.

At any given point, boards play an integral role in equitable student success. Just because boards are not on the campuses and involved in the day-to-day operations of their institutions does not mean boards cannot (and do not) impact what is happening among the students, staff, and faculty. It is important for boards to assess the role they play in advancing or impeding student success.

Is your board an initiator?

Does your board spearhead a policy, practice, or procedure to maximize equitable student success on campus?

Is your board a catalyzer?

Does your board follow the impetus of others (e.g., community groups, campus staff, or leadership) to improve equitable student outcomes and support those efforts?

Is your board a bystander?

Does your board fail to get involved in the movement toward equity and continue "business as usual"? Does your board neither intentionally advance nor impede critical equity work on behalf of students? Does your board view the work of equitable student outcomes as that of the administration, faculty, or staff alone?

Is your board an inhibitor?

Does your board slow, divert, or problematize the need for initiatives rooted in equity? Does your board see other issues as more critical to institutional vitality?

Is your board a barrier?

Has your board ever directly created a policy, practice, or procedure that challenges the advancement of equitable student success?

Below we highlight responsibilities that boards should take on in an effort to advance student success.

Establishing, disseminating, and keeping current the mission of the institution

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Selecting, supporting, and assessing the chief executive of the institution/system

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Co-creating, approving, and monitoring the progress of the ​strategic plan

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Ensuring the institution’s fiscal integrity, preserving and protecting its assets for posterity, and engaging directly in fundraising and philanthropy​

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Ensuring the quality of education provided by the institution

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Safeguarding both the autonomy of the institution and the related tradition of academic freedom

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Ensuring that the policies and processes of the institution remain current and are properly implemented

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Engaging regularly with the institution’s major constituencies

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Ensuring that the board’s business is conducted in an exemplary fashion, that its governance policies and practices are kept current, and that the performance of the board, its committees, and its members are periodically assessed​

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Ultimately…boards are responsible and accountable for the success of the institution; therefore, they become a key group in the implementation process of SEL [shared equity leadership] as well. Campuses in our study actively involved their boards with their DEI efforts (see also Morgan, LePeau, and Commodore 2022; Rall 2020). In addition to the presidents of each institution committing to make DEI issues a part of the board agenda, they also created an infrastructure to support the board work in this area, usually a board subcommittee focused on DEI. Boards were responsible for approving and monitoring DEI plans at each of these campuses. The degree to which the board embraced its role in accountability for DEI shaped the culture of urgency and commitment. Board commitment could also be a challenge, however, especially at colleges where alumni are deeply connected to Greek life and often loath to commit to action that would change culture in this sphere, where there is often active racism and sexism.

The Association of Governing Boards has several useful resources on board roles:

Source: Adrianna Kezar, Elizabeth Holcombe, and Darsella Vigil. Shared Responsibility Means Shared Accountability: Rethinking Accountability Within Shared Equity Leadership.  (American Council on Education, 2022).

“The ultimate aim of colleges and universities and a primary responsibility of boards of trustees should be equitable student success. Too often, though, this goal has proven to be elusive. The resources provided here offer practical, prudent recommendations to convert aspirations into realities, much to the benefit of students, colleges, and society at large.”

Richard Chait

Professor Emeritus of Higher Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Former Trustee, Wheaton (Massachusetts), Goucher, and Maryville Colleges