Board Policies, Practices, and Composition Highlighted in New AGB Research

By    //    Volume 24,  Number 3   //    May/June 2016

Since 1969, AGB has tracked data on the composition, policies, and practices of governing boards of public and independent institutions. The research has grown in scope to paint a more complete picture of what higher education governance looks like, its key players, and how boards operate. In 1985, the pool was expanded to include institutionally affiliated foundations, given their unique role in supporting public colleges, universities, and systems.

The purpose for tracking such data is to offer insight about the composition of college, university, system, and foundation governing boards and to offer institutional and foundation boards alike an opportunity to compare their attributes with those of other boards. This survey report and those that preceded it are also intended to spark dialogue about the future of higher education governance, including board capacity and functionality.

Some of the key items covered in Policies, Practices, and Composition of Governing and Foundation Boards 2016 include:

  • Board member demographics, including race/ ethnicity, gender, age, and occupation
  • Board size, meeting logistics, and committees
  • Presidential search
  • Annual giving

Key Findings:

Board size

Among public and independent institutions, the overall size of their boards has not changed since 2010. The average number of voting board members for public boards is 12, and for independent boards it is 29. Among institutionally affiliated foundations, the average number is 31.


Since 1969, the percentage of women serving on the boards of public or independent institutions has increased from 12 percent to approximately 32 percent. Among foundations, women accounted for approximately one quarter (25.8 percent) of voting board members.


Racial/ethnic minorities account for nearly one quarter (23.9 percent) of all public board members and approximately 13.5 percent of independent board members. When Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) are extracted from the total population, the overall percentage of minorities among public boards drops to 17 percent and to 11.1 percent among independents. An even smaller percentage of board members among affiliated foundations (9 percent) are racial/ethnic minorities.


The baby boomer generation accounted for the largest proportion of all board members. Approximately 66.2 percent of public board members, 67.2 percent of independent board members, and 68.9 percent of foundation board members were between the ages of 50-69.

Board member terms and limits

More than 90 percent of public and independent boards specify the length of a single term. The average term for board members of public institutions was 5.8 years, while the average at independent institutions was only 3.6 years. Over three-quarters (79.4 percent) of foundation boards specify the length of a single term, which averages 3.4 years.

Board meetings

The boards of public institutions meet the most often, an average of 7.4 times per year, while the boards of independent institutions and affiliated foundations each meet about three to four times per year.

Annual giving

The vast majority of respondents from independent institutions (80.8 percent) and affiliated foundations (72.4 percent) reported that 90-100 percent of their board members made a financial contribution within the past year. Less than half (44.3 percent) of public respondents reported the same.

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