Just as boards expect students to reach their fullest potential with the education the college provides, board members also need to strive to perform at their peak in overseeing the institution. The role of board members in higher education has changed significantly in recent years which has prompted the board and administration to adapt in some ways from their current roles.
College boards have to answer to lawmakers, corporate leaders, accreditors, and their communities. Among the many issues they have to deal with are challenges with revenue streams, reduced support, and competition from remote learning institutions. Today’s college boards have to be bold in their actions and decisions while inciting trust and being transparent.
The challenges in the expectations for governance in higher education are more challenging than ever, forcing boards to be more focused and engaged. During these changing times, boards will need to partner more strongly with administrators, and board presidents or chancellors need to give the board room to grow into their evolving responsibilities. For higher education learning institutions to thrive, boards need to be more innovative and assert their thoughts and expectations. In a perfect world, administrators will welcome this rather than discourage it.
How does your college board measure up against these issues of the top 10 characteristics on the board effectiveness checklist?
Board Effectiveness Checklist
1. Establish a Stronger Partnership with Administration
The board and administration will position themselves better to achieve their goals when they work together to create a more cohesive, collaborative working partnership with each other. Making this adaptation requires them to be curious, ask the hard questions, avoid criticizing each other after decisions have been made, and form a united front. Both parties need to be willing to put all the issues on the table. Boards will need to avail themselves of help from technology including dashboards and metrics to allow for transparency. These changes should go a long way toward regaining the public’s trust in higher education.
2. Get Back to Governance Basics
Examine the quality of your board orientation training. This is a good place to start getting back to the basics of good governance. Orientation training should focus on the board’s fiduciary responsibilities individually and as a whole board. Board orientations should include a review of the duties of care, loyalty, and obedience. Impress on new board members that they need to act in the best interests of the institution according to its mission and needs at all times. Board members should be encouraged to offer their individual opinions and still support the decisions of the whole board.
3. Strengthen the Relationship with the Board President
For a higher education institution to achieve a higher level of performance requires a close working relationship between the board and the board president. From their partnership will come thought leadership. The board president needs support from the board to be successful in his or her role. Both parties need to understand the scope and limits of their responsibilities. At the same time, boards need to be careful not to overstep management’s role and give the necessary room to achieve their goals.
4. Choose the Board Chair Wisely
The board chair must also adapt in his or her role to meet the needs of today’s colleges. The person who serves in this position is a valuable liaison between the CEO and the board. This position requires an understanding and respect for academic culture and the unique challenges that are inherent with higher education. In building a relationship with the board, the board president should feel confident enough to speak with candor and still be mutually supportive. The board president should also have an interest and familiarity in strengthening the relationships with the college’s external and internal stakeholders.
5. Focus on Modern Governance
As with any other board leadership position, college board members must be willing to objectively assess their own performances. They need to be willing to uphold and enforce the main governance policies such as the Code of Ethics, Code of Conduct, and Conflict of Interest. Board composition is a major modern governance issue and college boards should ensure they have the right talent on the board to lead the institution into the future. Board composition should focus on improving diversity and independence. Governance technology such as a board portal by BoardEffect can be a huge advantage for boards that are committed to working efficiently.
6. Make Efficient Use of Time
Making use of governance technology will free up many hours of board time because it automates many of the basic board duties. In addition to that, college boards should carefully consider how many board meetings they need to do their jobs effectively. The use of committees is a good way to fully vet the issues and make recommendations to the board while freeing the board up to work on strategic issues.
7. Be Proactive About Enterprise Risk Management
College boards are responsible for overseeing risk management. This responsibility requires working with the administrators to understand the college’s risk tolerance. College boards should be instrumental in weighing risks and opportunities and planning to mitigate risks as necessary. In particular, reputational risk is one of the key risk factors that college boards are facing.
8. Oversee Academic Quality
Another challenge in higher education today is the high cost of education and balancing that with the quality of education and the ever-increasing cost of student loans. Boards need to ensure that students are getting a quality education for their tuition. Board members need to be aware of the issues that define the quality of education and educational outcomes. This type of understanding will be a natural by-product of having meaningful discussions with administrators and faculty.
9. Practice Shared Governance
Practicing good governance is everyone’s responsibility. That comes together when the board and administrators work together toward a culture of shared governance. All leaders need to recognize the importance of collaborative decision-making and encourage it. Colleges are trending toward using more adjunct professors than in the past, which sometimes increases the governance challenges of overseeing fiscal issues, academic issues, and human resources.
10. Focus on Accountability
College board members have a duty to provide value to the government, the public, and their stakeholders while watching their budgets carefully. Good governance practices are essential in this area.
College board duties are changing which requires a change in the way they relate to the CEO and board president. The keys to college board effectiveness in these volatile times are collaboration, board engagement, and continually practicing good governance.