The tides are changing for board directors of higher education institutions. Boards of trustees have long been recruited from college alumni who have a strong affinity and loyalty to their alma maters. Until recently, administrators ran their colleges and universities as they saw fit. Administrators merely looked to the board of trustees to put their stamp of approval on their decisions. Corporate governance principles apply equally to trustees of higher education boards. As regulations have increased in the financial industries, boards of colleges and universities are taking a stronger role in governance because of their increased liabilities.
Scandals on campus are becoming more public, placing increased pressure on college trustees to respond in times of crisis and to answer for the actions (or non-actions) of the campus. Colleges also face increasing financial difficulties and competition from their competitors. Students and their parents expect quality education for the vast amounts of money they spend on tuition. Board portals are important communication tools that help college boards perform better, enhance communication and facilitate their board business efficiently. Harvard sociologist David Reisman summarized the college board’s responsibility succinctly, by saying that the role of boards is to “protect the future from the present.”
Challenges of Today’s College and University Boards
Private, public and nonprofit colleges and universities all have problems with managing their money. Higher education in every sector is getting more and more expensive. High school students are wondering if they will be able to repay student loan debts. The rising cost of tuition has students looking at alternative training opportunities like Job Corps, vocational schools, online degrees and apprenticeships.
Changes in federal regulations for student loans and federal student aid are contributing to inflated educational costs. Much of the federal student aid goes to pay for higher education costs, which some people believe benefits universities and staff more than students.
College students have vast concerns about whether they will be unemployed or underemployed after graduation.
Online learning academies are giving college boards a run for their money. Many students are happy to exchange campus life, sororities and fraternities, and intercollegiate sports and other activities for lower tuition and zero expenses for room and board.
Board trustees often have to discuss and respond to safety issues on campus. Sexual harassment issues have become a hot topic in Hollywood recently. As women courageously tell their stories, it’s giving women in other arenas the confidence to tell theirs as well, including students on campus. Colleges and universities have already had their fair share of scandals involving sexual harassment or abuse from faculty and athletes.
The board of trustees must also deal with other scandals and crimes involving alcohol, drugs, protests, school shootings and more.
Adding to the financial matters that boards of colleges and universities must face is how to manage finances in an industry in which students aren’t present consistently. Students are typically gone for the summer months, and in most cases, leave the campus in four or five years. The constant rotation of the student population makes strategic planning challenging over the short and long term.
Cybersecurity is an issue for every industry today, including colleges and universities. A 2013 article in the New York Times stated that U.S. campuses are being attacked millions of times each week. According to the article, the University of Wisconsin reported deflecting 90,000 to 100,000 hacking attempts every day.
Board portals are an effective tool for dealing with all of these campus issues in a timely and responsible manner.
Paper in the Boardroom in a Digital World
Conducting board meetings for boards of higher educational institutions is often difficult because of the size of the board and the geographical distance of board trustees. The average size of college boards is 29 trustees, and they tend to live in various parts of the country.
College trustees usually meet in person about once a quarter. Committee meetings may occur in person, but teleconferencing and videoconferencing have made it easier to attend smaller meetings remotely.
As an onsite board meeting approaches, the boards that use the old paper method place a heavy workload on the board secretary. The board secretary must work with the board chair to plan an appropriate agenda and start to work preparing multiple copies of the agenda, committee reports and other documents for the board trustees to review before the meeting. This process involves countless hours of printing, collating, filing in binders and shipping handbooks out to each board trustee. Once the board books are ready, the board secretary must mail them out to the trustees.
College boards incur many costs in putting together board books and mailing them. Mailing board books makes it impossible to add late-coming documents and reports. If all goes well, nothing gets lost in the mail, and board trustees get their materials in enough time to review them before the board meeting.
Board books with paper copies make it easy for papers to fall out and either get lost or potentially be picked up by someone who shouldn’t have them. This poses a special confidentiality risk since board trustees need to bring board books with them as they travel to their quarterly meetings.
Boards of colleges also have to create policies about how to properly handle board books once the meetings are over. Should trustees archive them electronically? Should they store them in a physical location onsite or offsite? Should they destroy them? What happens when a board trustee needs to access an archived report or other document?
Board portals solve all of these problems and more.
Benefits of Board Portals for Board Trustees of Higher Educational Institutions
Chances are good that most board trustees are already spending a fair amount of time on their laptops and tablets for work or personal reasons. Having some familiarity with technology makes it an easy transition to use a board portal.
Once board trustees get a little training, most of them find it so much easier and convenient to use than a cumbersome board book. Board trustees can find nearly anything they need by searching labeled tabs on their screens.
Board portals are designed to let one or more people become the administrators. Portal administrators can set user restrictions so that board trustees and faculty administrators can only access documents in the portal that they really need for official board business.
Board directors watch the news for public issues with other colleges and universities. Portals allow them to post articles immediately for discussion among trustees. These conversations give board trustees the chance to consider how they might react if their college were to face a similar situation, essentially giving them a chance to practice when times are good.
Board portals are designed to keep board information safe and secure, and they typically have IT experts available to help with any problems. Today’s college and university boards are finding that the cost of purchasing a board portal is well worth the investment when they consider the efficiency, security and savings in time and expense.
See how BoardEffect’s board portal can greatly enhance the performance of your board. Request a demo now!