If you consider the vastness of an ordinary college campus and the many departments that are necessary to keep the college running, it’s easy to see that accepting a position on a college board is a major responsibility. Board directors of colleges and universities may be selected because they offer a particular area of expertise. A college board of directors’ oversight responsibility extends far beyond their primary area of knowledge and experience.
Regardless of a college board director’s expertise, it’s necessary for all board directors to have some degree of knowledge in order to oversee many college departments. In particular, college board directors often don’t offer enough oversight on student outcomes.
Tools are beginning to emerge to help a college board of directors’ oversight responsibilities, including governance models and board portal software.
Data for College Board of Directors’ Oversight Responsibilities for Educational Quality
A 2009 Association of Governing Boards (AGB) survey of public and private higher education institutions clearly points to the areas of oversight to which college boards tend to pay the most attention.
The survey states that 79% of college boards surveyed spend more time discussing finances and the budget as compared with just under 5% that said their boards spend more time discussing academic issues.
With regard to academics, 77% of the respondents said their schools had a statement of what they expected undergraduates to learn. Overall, colleges considered their baseline requirement as a standard for measuring academic performance.
One way to approach a college board of directors’ oversight responsibilities is to use a governance operating model. Such a model defines the mechanisms and interactions that put governance into action. The model gives board directors a roadmap for how to approach their oversight duties responsibility and reveals gaps in board committee charters.
The size of the school, as well as many other factors, has an impact on the areas of college boards of directors’ oversight responsibilities. The following are the most common areas of board oversight:
Health and Campus Safety
Many of the issues related to health and campus safety also fall under the category of risk management. As large numbers of students live on campus or in nearby housing, college boards must oversee the administration’s efforts to address such issues as injuries, accidents, sexual harassment and illnesses.
College boards need to stay current with emergency and safety issues that the media reports and those that other schools are also dealing with to ensure that the school has a sound emergency preparedness program.
The area of finance is one that most board directors readily recognize as one of their fiduciary duties. Boards are responsible to monitor how their short- and long-term strategic planning manifests over time. Board directors need to be able to understand financial reports, including income and expense reports, budgets and audit reports. This is an important issue to ensure that the college’s budget reflects the academic goals of the institution.
Under the heading of finance, boards should monitor such issues as investments, scholarships and competitiveness with other schools.
College boards have a fiduciary responsibility to oversee the quality of education at their institutions. The AGB survey indicated that less than 25% of schools used information about student learning to inform budget decisions, failing to consider the important connection between fiscal and educational decisions that affect their bottom line.
The survey also stated that about 61.5% of those surveyed didn’t feel their boards spent enough time on student-learning outcomes. About 20% didn’t even think student outcomes were a board responsibility.
Board directors also need to make inquiries about curriculum and academic fraud.
Cybersecurity is a relatively new area of concern for college board directors, and it’s one that also falls under risk management. It’s important for boards to understand how the auditor views cyber risk and how management and the auditor manage cybersecurity disclosures. Boards need to make decisions about recruiting board directors with technology expertise to the board, hiring an advisor, setting up a cybersecurity risk management committee or approaching oversight of cybersecurity in some other way.
In past years, administration managed the bulk of the operational duties, while providing the board with a cursory report of activities. Regulatory pressures have prompted boards to step up and take a greater role in overseeing such issues as admissions, campus tours, class scheduling and financial aid.
College campuses often consist of many buildings spread out over large areas. Board directors should be aware of the condition and cleanliness of the facilities, including student dormitories and other types of student housing. Maintenance of facilities also includes keeping athletic, recreational and other buildings safe and secure. College boards of directors’ oversight responsibilities in the area of facilities may also include traffic control and planning for additional facilities.
Public Relations and Communications
Each year, some percentage of students graduate or move on. College boards should be monitoring and overseeing the administration’s outreach and recruitment efforts to ensure that enrollment remains strong.
The board is responsible for choosing a capable college spokesperson who is adept at coordinating and reporting campus safety initiatives to help avoid reputational risk and other types of risks.
Student Activities and Success
As students are the future leaders of the country, it’s important for colleges to support a large number of clubs and activities. Athletics, campus clubs and the arts fall under this category. Boards need to be concerned with overseeing degree completion rates as they correlate to recruitment efforts. An area of particular importance is ensuring that student learning outcomes are consistent with the institution’s mission and values, which boards shouldn’t confuse with academic quality.
Technology Is Part of the Answer to College Boards of Directors’ Oversight Responsibilities
With such a long list of oversight duties, it’s helpful for boards to use a board portal to streamline their board duties. BoardEffect’s highly secure board portal is a necessity for addressing the multitude of college boards of directors’ oversight responsibilities. A board portal provides a secure platform in which boards of directors can collaborate on their oversight duties, whether they’re at home, at work or traveling. The other important parts of a college board’s oversight duties are having a good model to follow and having the diligence to follow through with their responsibilities.