Higher Education

College governing boards must intensify engagement in challenging times

Timothy Tracy is a college trustee, company government and former provost on the College of Kentucky. Richard Messina is a administration advisor for companies, not-for-profits, authorities companies and universities. They co-wrote “Redesigning the College: A Guidebook,” from which this piece has been tailored.

A headshot image of Timothy Tracy

Timothy Tracy

Permission granted by Timothy Tracy


In as we speak’s turbulent occasions, college boards have an indispensable function to play to assist make sure the persevering with success and long-term survival of the establishments they serve. 

Boards can help senior management in anticipating altering dynamics and adapting accordingly, and so they can problem conventional assumptions that stand in the way in which of wanted evolution. They’ll additionally assist guarantee the event of planning situations which are reality-based, implementable and according to the college’s values. Most significantly, boards may also help administration maintain the resolve needed to interrupt from established practices and pursue new strategic instructions and pedagogical approaches. 

A headshot image of Richard Messina.

Richard Messina

Permission granted by Richard Messina


How ought to boards be pondering and appearing otherwise throughout this time? 

1. Enhance engagement via info. The board’s skill to contribute depends upon the knowledge it possesses. The board must frequently, ideally month-to-month, obtain a dashboard that tracks efficiency throughout all the important thing areas of the establishment — strategic, monetary, operational, human resource-related and philanthropic. 

Together with scholar success measures resembling retention and commencement charges is very necessary. It’s constructive for the board and the senior management staff collectively to outline the efficiency measures and to agree upon modifications because the college’s surroundings modifications and milestones are achieved.

2. Act as satan’s advocate with respect to conventional assumptions. Implicit and specific assumptions in regards to the college’s approaches and plans ought to be surfaced, reassessed and altered in gentle of latest realities. Boards can add nice worth via posing questions that encourage management to reexamine assumptions which may be inaccurate or outdated. 

On this course of, boards might want to take a look at assumptions by proposing situations which are considerably completely different from the established order and asking college leaders how they’d reply to those new conditions. For instance, the board might ask what assumptions underlie the college’s enrollment projections, and the way management would reply to a fast 20% decline in enrollment.

3. Problem strategic positioning. Difficult occasions create unanticipated alternatives. Now’s the time to retest the robustness of the college’s strategic goals and initiatives, aiming to make sure persevering with and future distinctiveness.

On this regard, the board might request that executives reassess the three highest precedence initiatives within the present strategic plan for his or her appropriateness in as we speak’s surroundings and, if indicated, work to develop higher focused initiatives. The board also needs to encourage senior management to conduct common assessments and monitoring of peer, competitor and aspirational establishments.

Since technique is an space wherein the board’s expertise could be particularly worthwhile, it’s value elaborating on the board’s potential contributions right here. Board members with various expertise in company, authorities and not-for-profit entities are effectively conscious that methods are primarily based on attributes that distinguish a company from its friends and opponents. An undifferentiated establishment lacks uniqueness and subsequently a purpose for long-term survival. 

Thus, boards should assist universities develop life like and compelling solutions to basic strategic questions associated to differentiation, for instance:

  • What can our college do higher than some other? During which market segments?
  • What are college students’ perceptions of worth and their return on funding?
  • What qualities do we wish our graduates to be recognized for? 
  • How can we uniquely develop our college students? 

Boards ought to encourage universities to judge 4 basic but nontraditional strategic pathways. The essence of technique is making decisions to focus scarce sources on value-creating actions, via a deliberate evaluation course of. Universities ought to think about creating consortia or alliances amongst teams of establishments, enabling the cluster to take care of an general breadth of choices whereas every establishment concentrates on chosen precedence areas of energy (for instance the College of Wisconsin system). Expertise demonstrates the worth of shopping for extra capabilities, resembling technology-based educating, studying and administrative software program (for instance Purdue’s acquisition of Kaplan). Lastly, since organizations that attempt to be taught and innovate enhance their probabilities of survival in dynamic environments, universities should themselves grow to be studying organizations.  

4. Insist on new paradigms. The standard college financial mannequin and the paradigm underlying it have to be reevaluated and modified. Boards ought to insist on the crucial of this redesign and will assist form the frameworks related to different education-delivery and monetary fashions. 

5. Convey exterior expertise to bear. Board members with company and not-for-profit expertise in transformational environments can help their presidents and colleagues by advising on classes realized. Consultant subjects may embody main organizational change and communications approaches. 

6. Coach the president. Even probably the most succesful and greatest ready presidents profit from counseling and assist in navigating the transition to a dramatically completely different world. Boards ought to search alternatives to supply such help to presidents. This teaching function is most frequently profitable in circumstances the place the president and a board chair are capable of develop a deeply trusting collaboration.

7. Intentionally assess board practices and efficiency, and implement enhancements. The board additionally has a duty to itself to follow good governance — periodically assessing its personal efficiency and adjusting its operations accordingly. Apart from strengthening the contribution the board is ready to make over time, considerate self-assessment serves to mannequin for the college the self-discipline of selling organizational studying and innovation, each of that are important for succeeding in disruptive environments.

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