Datatfile: My Institution Is Very Successful, Higher Education Not So Much

By Merrill P. Schwartz    //    Volume 20,  Number 5   //    September/October 2012

In the spring of 2012, AGB conducted a survey of governing board members and asked them about the price, cost, and value of higher education in general, as well as the contributions and effectiveness of their governing board. This was AGB’s third online, confidential “Survey of Higher Education Governance,” supported by TIAA-CREF Institute. The survey was sent to nearly 14,000 board members at AGB-member institutions and more than 2,500 participated, a response rate of 18.3 percent.

Several survey items asked board members about educational outcomes at their own institution and higher education in general. We asked respondents to say whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree that their institution or higher education in general: “helps people have better lives,” “prepares graduates very well for careers,” or “plays an important role in developing people who are engaged in their communities and concerned about key social issues.”

Almost all respondents agreed or strongly agreed that my institution delivered on the goals of preparing people for better lives (99 percent), citizenship (96 percent), and careers (96 percent). Not quite as many, but most respondents also agreed or strongly agreed that higher education in general prepares people for better lives (98 percent), citizenship (89 percent), and careers (88 percent). In each of these three dimensions, more board members said that their own institution does a better job than higher education in general. (See Table 1.)

While most board members gave very positive performance ratings to both higher education and their own institution, fewer gave top marks if you consider the strength of their convictions, or count only those who strongly agreed with statements about educational outcomes. Two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) strongly agreed that their institution helps people have better lives, 62 percent strongly agreed that their institution plays an important role in developing graduates for citizenship, and less than half (45 percent) said their institution prepares graduates very well for careers. Board members thought higher education in general was less successful than their own institution on all three educational outcome measures, with a gap as large as 26 percentage points; only 19 percent of respondents strongly agreed that higher education prepares graduates very well for careers.

The full report of the “2012 AGB Survey of Higher Education Governance” will be available in November 2012 (www.agb.org).

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