Board Oversight of Equitable Student Success

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 caused 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 (full-time, residential, recent high school graduates, white, elite, men, etc.). 
  • Students today are increasing part-time, older, working, women, and of color. 
  • Data tells 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. 

Sample questions to consider.

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 they 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 (food pantries, financial support, childcare, etc.)?

Are student scholarships and financial aid responsive to changing and diverse student needs?

“We are excited to work with the Gates Foundation to develop and provide board members with resources to help them oversee and advance student success. This grant will allow us to create an informative and practical curriculum for boards with actionable recommendations and resources.”

Henry Stoever

President and CEO, AGB