Board Responsibility for Equitable Student Success

Why Is This Important?

Why is equitable student success important?

Traditionally, governing boards have experienced challenges related to the tension between governance and management. The shorthand for this tension has sparked conversation about helping boards avoid “getting in the weeds” of the work. One strategy to combat the tension is having a clear and shared understanding of the primary concepts that inform student success. These definitions are intended to help governing boards in finding the balance between leadership and support. In the main portions of the report, we briefly describe some key terms.

The equity lens should be applied to everything the board does.

This is work boards are already tasked with doing and should be part of all of the major work of boards; it cannot be on the sidelines.

  • Institutions were originally built for a different type of students (e.g. full-time, residential, recent high school graduates, White, elite, male). 
  • Students today are increasingly part-time, older, working, women, and of color. 
  • Data tell us that students who are not succeeding at similar rates in our nation’s colleges and universities are disproportionally poor, of color, and first-generation.
  • Institutions need to prepare and learn how to support these “new” demographics. Failure to address the current underperformance of these students means that college and university outcomes overall will continue to decline as demographic shifts increase the percentage of the student population that is of color, poor, and first-generation. 

Click here to view sample questions boards should consider about students.

  • What happens to “real” students who are trying to make it, whose pre-collegiate preparation was less than adequate, and whose financial issues remain unresolved? 
  • Students come from varied backgrounds and have different experiences and needs. How can the board ensure that institutional decisions are made based on the broad range of students and not just “traditional” students? 
  • Is the institution prepared to deal with the differences it will find within any demographic breakdown? 
  • Do the board and administration have a full understanding of the services needed for success and that some of these services are non-academic (e.g. food pantries, financial support, child care)? 
  • Are student scholarships and financial aid responsive to changing and diverse student needs? 

Who makes up today's college student bodies?

The student bodies studying at today’s colleges and universities have changed. Students are more diverse in age, race, gender, and how they live, work, pay for, and attend school. The statistics below, provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), may surprise some board members and other stakeholders. Understanding who attends (or may wish to attend) an institution can help the board ensure that all are equitably supported. Please consider the intersectionality of this data as you think about student experience.

Click on each section to view and download a larger, shareable image.

“The economic competitiveness of our country demands that higher education evolve, adapt, and deliver on the promise of success for every person we admit. Boards must lead our sector toward a future where a student’s potential is no longer limited by their background and identity.”

Bridget Burns

Executive Director, University Innovation Alliance