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The Growing Interest in Academic Quality Lessons Learned about Student Learning Boards and Fundraising: What Should They Know? The False Choice of Liberal vs. Professional Education CompetencyBased Education: Where Is It Going?

Inside the New Schoolhouse: What Boards Can Do to Improve Student Learning


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2 On My Agenda By Susan Whealler Johnston How Do We Know if We Deliver?

Inside the New Schoolhouse: What Boards Can Do to Improve Student Learning Accountability demands, increased competition for students, and evidence-based management techniques, Peter T. Ewell writes, have resulted in The Growing Interest in Academic Quality. EllenEarle Chaffee provides answers to the basic question: Learning Metrics: How Can We Know That Students Know What They Are Supposed to Know? What makes for successful board oversight of educational quality is explored in Lessons Learned about Student Learning: Eight Test Cases. And Rebecca Klein-Collins, Stanley O. Ikenberry, and George D. Kuh describe the growing focus on evidence of what students actually know and can do with what they know in Competency-Based Education: What the Board Needs to Know.


4 Perspective on the News A sampling of national media coverage of higher education, surveys, and books in the last two months. 7 Legal Standpoint By Lawrence White Faculty Members and Free Speech Part II: Four Principles for Boards

Board Chairs and Board Professionals: Partners in Governance

49 Focus on

By David Rubenstein and Richard Riddell A board chair and board professional share lessons learned in the key areas where their collaboration contributes most to the board’s work: education, planning, and communication.

the Presidency By William E. Troutt The Benefits of Good Board Governance

40 Interim Senior-Level Appointments: Why, When, How? By Joseph S. Johnston Jr. The tenures of people holding executive-level positions in higher education are increasingly short, and institutions have responded by considering more interim appointments.

45 Liberal Education vs. Professional Education: The False Choice By Larry D. Shinn Does an unbridgeable chasm between “liberal education” and “professional training” truly exist?

50 View from the Board Chair By Robert F. Cioffi Building Strong Working Relationships

51 At Your Service A Guide to AGB’s programs, services, and staff contacts. 52 A Question For… Patricia P. Jackson What Should Board Members Know about Fundraising?

Trusteeship magazine (ISSN: 1068-1027) reports trends, issues, and practices in higher education to help board members and chief executives better understand their distinctive and complementary roles and to strengthen board performance. It is published bimonthly as a membership service of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB. Trusteeship is a registered trademark. Indexed in Current Index to Journals in Education (ERIC). Trusteeship is available to individuals through the membership of their boards in AGB. All board members, the chief executive, and certain administrative officers receive this periodical. The libraries of AGB members and individuals who are not otherwise included in this distribution may subscribe to Trusteeship. Board members and others employed by an institution whose board is eligible for AGB membership may not subscribe. Subscriptions for individuals and libraries affiliated with member institutions are $75 per year; for individuals affiliated with organizations ineligible for AGB membership, $100 per year. Call AGB Publications (800/356-6317) with questions about subscription policies, prices for back issues, and information about postage surcharges for overseas mailings. How to submit a manuscript: Trusteeship welcomes submissions on any aspect of higher education governance. Author’s guidelines and submission instructions are available on request or through All manuscripts will be scheduled for publication at the editor’s discretion and will be edited to conform to the magazine’s style and format. Periodicals postage paid at Washington, D.C., and additional mailing offices. Copyright ©2014 Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. All rights reserved. Printed in U.S.A. Postmaster: Please send address changes to Trusteeship, 1133 20th St. N.W., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20036. Publications Mail Agreement No. 41792516. Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to: PO Box 875, Stn A, Windsor ON N9A 6P2.




xternal pressure continues to grow for colleges and universities to demonstrate what we have long thought self-evident: the value of a college education. This fall President Obama added to that pressure when he announced his initiative to make college more affordable and to increase student success, that is, to increase graduation rates. In his remarks at the University of Buffalo, the president said, “It is time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results, and reward schools that deliver for American students and our future.” “Delivering” good results can be defined in a host of ways, from landing a job upon graduation to getting into the graduate school of choice. But, no matter how these results are defined, they include the skills and knowledge that a student has gained through the educational experience; after all, graduates are hired by employers and admitted to graduate schools based on what they know and can do. What the president is asking for is evidence that an institution is delivering good results, and other people—parents and prospective students, accreditors and legislators—have been asking for the same thing for years. Given the increasing external pressure to produce this evidence, it is more important than ever for boards to involve themselves in the oversight of educational quality at the institutions they serve. This is not a new responsibility for governing boards, brought on by new requirements or expectations. Rather, it is a responsibility with new urgency. Over the last five years, AGB has published books, research reports, and policy statements about it, and it’s a common topic at AGB’s conferences and workshops. For boards to fulfill this oversight responsibility, they need several things: understanding of the responsibility, a plan to educate themselves, a supportive president and board chair, an effective committee with good working relations with the faculty, and reports and data from assessments of student learning. In addition, boards need to embrace this responsibility every bit as fully as their oversight of finances and their responsibility for the audit. While board members may feel less sure of themselves in the academic arena than the financial, they can equip themselves to ask appropriate and necessary questions that contribute to the institution’s efforts to assess student learning and strengthen educational quality. This issue of Trusteeship provides much that a board needs to start making strides in this area. Thanks to generous support from the Teagle Foundation, AGB has been able to work with eight public and independent institutions to develop a set of tools and resources for boards interested in working more effectively on monitoring the assessment and improvement of educational quality. The articles you’ll find here offer insights based on collective experience, insights that can help shape the work of interested board and academic affairs committees as they take on the important work of oversight of educational quality. In addition to these articles, I urge you to visit AGB’s website—— for more detailed information from the project, including metrics used by these participating institutions to monitor educational quality, as well as case studies and model agendas for academic affairs committees.

Richard D. Legon President Susan Whealler Johnston Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jamie Ferrare Senior Vice President and Managing Principal, AGB Search Sarah Hardesty Bray Vice President for Communications and Marketing Peter Eckel Vice President for Programs and Research Maria Nazareth Vice President for Finance Merrill Schwartz Vice President for AGB Consulting


Hon. James E. (Jim) Geringer Former Governor of Wyoming Western Governors University VICE CHAIR

Yvonne R. Jackson Simmons College Spelman College, life trustee VICE CHAIR

Clifford M. Kendall University System of Maryland Foundation University of Maryland College Park Foundation Wesley Theological Seminary SECRETARY

David W. Miles Drake University Elizabeth A. Ballantine Grinnell College/American University of Paris Richard A. Beyer American University Rita J. Bornstein Public Member James M. Fallows Public Member Helen Aguirre Ferré Miami Dade College Joanne Harrell University of Washington Marilyn French Hubbard Central Michigan University Mary K. Hughes University of Alaska System Willamette University Jeffrey L. Humber, Jr. Gallaudet University W. Austin Ligon St. John’s College Charles H. McTier Emory University Charles R. Pruitt University of Wisconsin System David H. Roberts Thunderbird School of Global Management Occidental College, trustee emeritus Joyce M. Roché Dillard University Verne O. Sedlacek Public Member Charles A. Shorter City University of New York James C. Stalder Carnegie Mellon University Jeffrey B. Trammell College of William & Mary William E. Trueheart Johnson & Wales University James M. Weaver Gettysburg College, former board chair Jacqueline F. Woods Muskingum College




Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran Kalamazoo College VICE CHAIR

Teresa A. Sullivan University of Virginia Charles M. Ambrose University of Central Missouri Carlton E. Brown Clark Atlanta University Ronald L. Carter Johnson C. Smith University

Jo Ann M. Gora Ball State University Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC University of Notre Dame Arthur F. Kirk Jr. Saint Leo University Sally Mason University of Iowa Patricia A. McGuire Trinity College M. Lee Pelton Emerson College

Clayton T. Christian Montana University System Board of Regents

Sidney A. Ribeau Howard University

Alecia A. DeCoudreaux Mills College

Thomas W. Ross University of North Carolina System

Donald R. Eastman III Eckerd College Bobby Fong Ursinus College Fernando León Garcia CETYS University System Antoine M. Garibaldi University of Detroit Mercy Mark D. Gearan Hobart and William Smith Colleges Barbara Gellman-Danley University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College

Suzanne Shipley Shepherd University Laura Skandera Trombley Pitzer College Barbara R. Snyder Case Western Reserve University Henry N. Tisdale Claflin University Edwin H. Welch University of Charleston Nancy L. Zimpher State University of New York


Lyn Trodahl Chynoweth Moravian College

Frederick L. Gruel William Paterson University of New Jersey

Jeffrey B. Trammell College of William and Mary

David K. Hendrickson West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

Clyde E. Allen Jr. University of Minnesota System

Christopher G. Kennedy University of Illinois

T. Grant Callery Marietta College

Stephen Mandel Dartmouth College

Robert C. Davidson Jr. Art Center College of Design, Pasadena Morehouse College

H. Carl McCall The State University of New York


Don M. Downing University of Missouri System Mark L. Epstein The Cooper Union Elizabeth Eveillard Smith College Thomas H. Grape Ithaca College

Robert W. Norton Fisk University Robert Rabinovitch McGill University Sharon Kinsman Salmon Le Moyne College James E. Shreiner Elizabethtown College Walter L. Sutton Jr. Wiley College


A sampling of national media coverage of higher education in the last two months Q U O TA B L E “You don’t feel dirty when you’re soliciting money for a university and you do when you’re soliciting money for a political campaign.” Former Nebraska Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey, who was president of The New School from 2001– 10, on the difference between fundraising for higher ed and politics. (, January 4) “There’s always going to be places for private, personal dentistry. But dentistry is going toward corporate roots.” Dr. Michael Bentley, a dentist in suburban Peoria, Illinois, on how the cost of dental school and the ensuing loan debt are changing the practice of dentistry. (, December 30) “There’s not enough space in Manhattan, and Manhattan is where students want to be.” Brett Herschenfeld, senior vice president with SL Green Realty Corporation, a major commercial landlord that is now developing college residence halls. (New York Times, December 31)


Presidential Plea The mid-January White House summit on college access provided a platform for President Obama to call for greater opportunity in higher education for low-income students. With 140 college presidents, business people, foundation leaders, and nonprofit executives as his audience, the president said, “There is this huge cohort of talent that we’re not tapping,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education on January 16. But he also called for students to take responsibility, too. “While there is so much more we must do for our kids, at the end of the day, the person who has the most say over whether or not a student succeeds is the student himself or herself.” While that’s true, the factors weighing against low-income students can seem insurmountable to them. Take application fees, for instance. “There are some families where the cost of your application fee is a serious question around the dinner table,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education (ACE) and a participant in the summit. “These are real factors why some academically qualified students never go to college.” Broad told NPR on January 16 that when she was president of the University of North Carolina, she sent volunteers to high schools all over the state to encourage students who had not completed a college application to do so. Student enrollment from rural and low-income areas shot up as a result, she said. ACE is working to replicate that model in all 50 states by the end of the year, with 39 already participating. “Poverty has its own gravitational force,” Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), told NPR. “A blown gasket can be the difference between going to college or not.” Yet many overcome those forces working against them, including a young woman from Chicago named Michelle Robinson, better known today as Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama shared some of her own story of being a first-generation, AfricanAmerican student at Princeton University, an experience she initially found overwhelming and isolating. Institutional resources and mentors helped her make it through, and they can help another generation, too, she argued.


“If you embrace and empower these students, they’re going to stay engaged with your school for decades after they graduate,” she said in the Chronicle. “They will be dressed up in school colors at homecoming games. They’ll be asking to serve on your committees and advisory boards. And they’ll be doing their part when fundraising season rolls around. Believe me, these will be some of the best alumni you could possibly hope for.”

A Plethora of Programs There was no shortage of good ideas at the White House Summit referenced above. The day’s agenda focused on the nexus of high educational ability and low economic capacity, expanding early counseling and remedying inequality in college advising for high schoolers, and new strategies for remediation. One program of particular interest is the College Advising Corps, based in North Carolina. The effort is similar to Teach for America in that it draws on recent college graduates to do much of the legwork. According to the Washington Post on January 16, the young alums are trained to go into communities facing significant economic challenges and advise high-school students on college opportunities the young people might otherwise not know about or, just as frustratingly, know about but lack the wherewithal to pursue. The advisers sign on for two years and receive a stipend for their work, which is essentially a supplement to the efforts of high-school guidance counselors, many of whom have caseloads too large to manage effectively. The corps is supported by colleges and foundations, including the John M. Belk Endowment, which, after the summit, made a $10 million gift to expand the efforts in rural North Carolina. Presently, the corps has 375 staffers in 15 states and plans to add as many as 500 more in the next year. “Being able to sit right next to them and go through the process with them, that’s the biggest thing they need,” said Alexandra Johnston, 21, and a newly minted graduate of the University of Virginia. In her corps work so far, she has observed that high-school students are “more willing to listen to us than they are to a guidance counselor or teacher who is 30 or 40 years their senior. Hon-

estly, it’s true. We look like them, we talk like them. We kind of dress like them.” Another program, the Posse Foundation, aims to engage underprivileged students more in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). The College Board is working with colleges and universities to allow qualified SAT takers to have application fees waived for up to four institutions. And the University System of Maryland is partnering with nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, to identify 1,000 lower-income 10th graders with academic potential to support them on a college track. For Nicole Hurd, founder and CEO of the College Advising Corps, the summit represents an opportunity not to be missed. “The White House gave us an HOV lane,” she said, “and we are taking it. It’s exciting.”

© Barbara Smaller / The New Yorker Collection/

Through No Default of Your Own As the jobless recovery wheezes on, student loan debt continues to drag it down, according to the Wall Street Journal on December 30. The numbers are not encouraging, with both debt loads and default rates climbing ever upward. The nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success cites a 25 percent rise in student debt in the last four years (up to $29,400 in 2012). Meantime, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports a total of $1 trillion in student debt, with nearly 12 percent of that delinquent at the end

“How much would it cost if I don’t take classes but just live in a dorm with a meal plan?”

of the third quarter, up from a 7.6 percent delinquency rate five years earlier. Still, the amount of student debt is only onetenth of the estimated $10 trillion Americans owed in mortgage debt at the height of the housing bubble. And most college debtors make their payments on time. But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warns that rising default loans could make it harder in the future for young people to qualify for mortgages, car loans, and other financing that stimulates consumer spending and economic growth.

If You’re Happy and You Know It… A recent survey by GDA Education Research shows college students to be happier with higher education than the general public is. The study shows that 82 percent of students in public institutions and 80 percent of their counterparts at independent colleges and universities feel “positive” or “very positive” about their college experience. Seven hundred college sophomores completed the survey, of which 47 percent attended a public institution, with 53 percent at an independent institution. More than three-quarters of the public students (79 percent) and 72 percent of the independent students said they would choose their same college or university if they had to make the decision over again. “We conducted the survey to determine the impact of student-recruitment strategies by colleges and universities. Some have suggested they are creating a legacy of disappointed students who feel oversold by their institutions,” said Joe Moore, CEO of Carnegie Communications, which sponsored the survey. “The data refuted those beliefs and answered many of our questions.” In questions about the college admissions process, only 12 percent said they were “stressed” or “very stressed” about the process, with 32 percent describing themselves as “very comfortable” with the experience. And as for costs, slightly less than half (43 percent) of those attending a public institution said that “cost of attending” was the most important factor in their choice of college or university, while only 31 percent of students enrolled in an independent institution said the same thing.


Richard D. Legon Executive Editor Sarah Hardesty Bray Editor-in-Chief Julie Bourbon Editor Melissa L. DeCosmo Editorial Associate McMURRY/TMG, LLC Design and Production Jeffrey Kibler Art Director Katie Mason Production Manager Brenda M. Waugh Senior Production Artist CONSULTING EDITORS

Janice M. Abraham United Educators Stanley O. Ikenberry University of Illinois Thomas C. Longin Senior AGB Consultant Theodore J. Marchese AGB Search Patricia A. McGuire Trinity Washington University Martin Michaelson Hogan Lovells Robert M. O’Neil University of Virginia Jane V. Wellman Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs

J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


Play defense with mutual fund hedging strategies More frequent periods of stock market volatility have generated greater interest in portfolio risk management strategies, including hedging. Yet, even sophisticated investors may not be fully aware of signiďŹ cant differences that exist between hedge funds and mutual funds that use hedging strategies. In fact, several commonly used hedging strategies by mutual funds are somewhat conservative, used more for defensive purposes than to generate alpha.

Intro to mutual fund hedging strategies These basic hedging techniques represent varying levels of risk, but used appropriately, they may reduce portfolio volatility and help smooth overall returns. 1  Covered call funds, also known as option income funds, sell options against

portfolio holdings, collecting premiums that add to total return. Writing calls generates an ongoing source of cash ow under almost any market condition. However, in rising markets these funds may lose some potential for capital appreciation because they sell away all upside potential. 2 Buy/write index funds generally hold a portfolio of stocks tied to an index,

providing a broadly diversiďŹ ed, less volatile stock investment. In addition to any dividends they earn on their holdings, these funds also generate income by writing index options. This strategy may generate income beyond what the regular stock portfolio would yield, and may also reduce fund share price volatility. 3 Put option strategies may help protect against market declines, and may be used

to help insulate portfolios from drastic short-term market swings. But purchasing puts can be expensive, and many managers don’t believe the potential beneďŹ t is compelling enough to justify the cost. Funds with put protection are considered among the most conservative.

Conservative techniques for uncertain markets

RISK The effectiveness of the Fund’s index option-based risk management strategy may be reduced if the Fund’s equity portfolio does not correlate to the index underlying its option positions. The Fund may invest in foreign securities traded in U.S. markets, including through ADRs. Foreign securities are subject to foreign currency fluctuations, higher volatility than U.S. securities and limited liquidity. Political, economic and information risks are also associated with foreign securities. Investments in emerging markets may be subject to these risks to a greater extent than those in more developed markets. The Fund may invest in real estate investment trusts (REITs) that are subject to special risks, including interest rate and property value fluctuations, as well as risks related to general and economic conditions. The value of the Fund’s positions in index options fluctuates in response to changes in the value of the underlying index. Selling index call options can reduce the risk of owning stocks, but it limits the opportunity to profit from an increase in the market value of stocks in exchange for up-front cash at the time of selling the call option. The Fund also risks losing all or part of the cash paid for purchasing index put options. Unusual market conditions or the lack of a ready market for any particular option at a specific time may reduce the effectiveness of the Fund’s option strategies, and for these and other reasons the Fund’s option strategies may not reduce the Fund’s volatility to the extent desired. From time to time, the Fund may reduce its holdings of put options, resulting in an increased exposure to a market decline.

Strategies for managing portfolio risk Skillful use of hedging techniques can be an effective strategy for managing portfolio risk, particularly in volatile markets. That’s why foundations, endowments and other institutions have increasingly sought to add hedged equity strategies like Gateway

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Faculty Members and Free Speech Part II: Four Principles for Boards BY L AWRENCE WHITE

ast issue’s column asked whether and under what circumstances a faculty member can be called to account based on the content of speech or the impact speech has on listeners. I provided some illustrative examples of what I termed “intemperate faculty speech” and promised that in this issue I would offer legal and practical advice on what to do when faculty members assert a constitutionally protected right to speak their minds. First principle: Context matters. Not all faculty speech is created equal. In keeping with the doctrine of academic freedom, courts accord greater deference to faculty speech the closer its nexus with classroom activities. As stated in 1957’s Sweezy v. New Hampshire, the Supreme Court recognizes the faculty’s prerogative to determine “what may be taught” in their classrooms and “how it shall be taught.” Judges tread warily when invited to censor or sanction faculty members whose pedagogy pushes the limits of propriety. What about other contexts? What if a professor publishes a controversial article? What if she writes an intemperate letter to the editor in the local newspaper that identifies her as a faculty member but relates to a matter of community concern having nothing to do with the college? What if she assails a trustee by name and accuses the trustee of a conflict of interest related to the trustee’s vote on a controversial college measure? Permutations are endless. Legal analysis is complicated by the Supreme Court’s controversial 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, which held that public sector employees “are not speaking as citizens … [when they] make statements pursuant to their official duties” and are therefore not constitutionally protected from discipline. The court in Garcetti specifically reserved judgment on whether faculty members at public institutions are covered by the ruling. If you serve as a board member at a public institution, you should consult counsel for advice on whether Garcetti applies to your institution. Garcetti, however, doesn’t change and may even reinforce the general precept that context matters, and that faculty members generally enjoy the largest measure of free-speech protection the closer their speech relates to their essential duties as teachers and scholars.

L Context TK TK matters, and faculty members generally enjoy the largest measure of free-speech protection the closer their speech relates to their essential duties as teachers and scholars.

Second principle: Content doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter. This is perhaps the most difficult principle to accept intellectually and to operationalize, particularly for board members. No matter how outrageous a faculty member’s utterances might strike the dispassionate listener —insert your most nightmarish reference to Hitler, bigotry, or sexual depravity here—we run into potential trouble if we justify our impulse to regulate on distaste for the words chosen. Courts view with suspicion any decision based on “the content of the message” and have repeatedly held that content-based regulation of speech “cannot be tolerated under the First Amendment.” (Quotations are from the Supreme Court’s 1984 decision in Regan v. Time, Inc.) This segues naturally to our third principle: Develop a thick skin for what might euphemistically be described as “robust” debate. Imagine a faculty member makes a statement you find odious. The statement is widely broadcast through the news media and becomes a subject of controversy among members of the campus community. The board should not hesitate to express its disagreement. But at the same time, it must recognize that faculty members arguably have the right to express even offensive views. Take comfort from Justice Louis Brandeis’ famous 1927 dictum in Whitney v. California: “The remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” Fourth and final principle: Heed measured advice. Institutional officials may advise against punishing a faculty member out of a well-founded fear that punishment will precipitate unflattering press coverage and may bring on litigation that the institution is likely to lose. Free-speech issues will galvanize faculty sentiment and may conceivably invite scrutiny from external organizations. The president, the general counsel, the director of media relations, and other officials often have experience that board members lack in assessing and reacting to a potentially incendiary situation. When emotions are highest, the need to heed the objective judgments of campus officials is most acute. Lawrence White is vice president and general counsel at the University of Delaware ( J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


Inside The New Schoolhouse: What Boards Can Do to Improve Student Learning



Interest in Academic Quality

▲ ▲

B Y P E T E R T. E W E L L



2 3


A growing atmosphere of accountability in higher education, with an emphasis on student learning outcomes Increased competition in the higher education marketplace, an environment that puts a premium on visible evidence of academic performance The constrained fiscal conditions under which most colleges and universities operate today—a context that puts a premium on sound, evidence-based management practices



higher education were determined almost solely by institutional reputation, productivity, and factors such as fiscal, physical, and human resources. Regional accreditors, charged with examining the adequacy of public and independent institutions alike, looked mostly at the overall level of institutional resources and at internal shared-governance processes. Over the past three decades, however, interest on the part of external stakeholders in the actual academic performance of colleges and universities has steadily risen.


Over the past 30 years, interest from external stakeholders in the academic performance of institutions has risen for three reasons:

There are a number of reasons for the increased concern: • A growing atmosphere of accountability in higher education, with an emphasis on student learning outcomes; • Increased competition in the higher education marketplace, an environment that puts a premium on visible evidence of academic performance; and • The constrained fiscal conditions under which most colleges and universities operate today—a context that puts a premium on sound and evidence-based academic management practices as much as it does on fiscal discipline. Such trends have created new and heightened responsibilities for board members of colleges and universities.

Rising Calls for Accountability Beginning in the mid-1980s, state policy makers grew concerned about the outcomes of higher education in relation to its costs. Educational quality already was on the minds of governors and state legislators because of the Reagan administration’s “A Nation at Risk” report in 1983, which warned of declining learning standards in elementary and secondary schools. In that climate, the National Governors Association launched an initiative in 1986 titled “Time for Results,” extending a call to examine the quality of collegiate learning—a call that continues to reverberate today. An important result of those changes was the birth of a nationwide assessment movement in higher education that has stimulated the development of systematic investigations of student-learning outcomes at growing numbers of colleges and universities. Although the states were at first the main drivers of that effort, the push to remain internationally competitive has lately driven the federal government, acting through regional accrediting organizations, to step up engagement with quality and pay greater attention to improving graduation rates in higher education. In the early 2000s, the rising interest in the quality of higher education was 10


joined by a growing national imperative, fueled by a concern that the United States was no longer unquestionably the world leader in higher education. According to figures compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), America slipped to 15th place in the world with respect to the proportion of young citizens (aged 25–34) earning a postsecondary credential. The Obama administration’s recently announced goal of achieving a population postsecondary attainment rate of 60 percent by 2020 is a response to this condition. But the administration also recognizes that it does no good for the United States to reach that rate if the degrees granted by its colleges and universities are substandard with respect to quality. Clearly, improving the quality of learn-

ing outcomes is integral to achieving the United States’ goals. Operating in a global environment means that the nation needs to maintain competitiveness with respect to both the numbers and the quality of degrees produced.

The Role of the States The explicit interest of states in higher education quality embraces more than just public institutions, and it is driven by three factors: • First, state governments are “owneroperators” of public colleges and universities, which they directly fund and oversee. As such, state policy makers are fundamentally interested in cost-effectiveness and return on investment. With respect to outcomes, that means that policy makers want to be

assured that graduates have reached acceptable levels of academic performance. But they are also concerned about such matters as student retention and the time it takes students to earn their degrees because those factors are assumed to be related to efficiency as well. • Second, many states provide substantial scholarship support that allows students to attend independent as well as public institutions. Acting in this role, a state’s primary concern with respect to academic-quality assurance is that students obtain a credential of value— that is, one with which graduates are satisfied and that has a payoff in the marketplace for employment. • Finally, in their roles as keepers of the public interest, states are concerned about issues including economic development, civic participation, and the overall quality of life of their citizens. Accordingly, they are interested in related dimensions of quality in higher education, such as college and university contributions to economic development in the form of well-prepared graduates, contributions to knowledge consistent with state need, and institutional responsiveness to regional and community needs. These elements of quality, of course, can be manifest in both public and independent institutions. While these basic interests in academic accountability are common across the 50 states, they may differ in their expression. For example, a few states require students at public institutions to pass standardized examinations and/or participate in statewide surveys about what they learned and experienced. But far more states require public institutions to report regularly on student outcomes using institutiondefined criteria and assessment methods. And almost all states include graduationrate data as part of their performance-indicator systems for public higher education. Some states are beginning to include independent institutions in these reports as well, using data on student progress collected through those institutions’ participation in state-funded student-aid programs.

Do Boards Spend Enough Time on Student Learning? othing is more central to higher education than student learning


and academic quality. But according to an AGB survey, 62 percent of boards report that they do not spend enough time on student learning; none report spending too much time. “Other priorities” and not enough time were the reasons cited. Moreover, one in five board members note that they don’t think oversight of educational quality

should be the board’s role—a surprisingly high percentage, given the mission of institutions and the fiduciary role of boards. Boards must be responsible for the oversight of student learning and educational quality as well as other fiduciary matters, such as an institution’s financial health. Ideally, boards should look for evidence of student learning and proof that students are engaging in pedagogies that lead to learning. It is important to note that boards should not overstep into the work of faculty. The faculty is responsible for the curriculum; the board’s role is to remind them of that responsibility.

Institutional Accreditation Increasingly, however, institutional accrediting organizations are displacing states as the primary actors in quality assurance for higher education. Accreditation is a nominally voluntary process that began about a century ago as a means for colleges and universities to recognize and accept one another’s credits and credentials. To remain accredited, every five to eight years, institutions go through a comprehensive review process that involves preparation of a To ensure that self-study, one or multiday they are doing more visits by a team what the federal of peer reviewers, and a review-andgovernment report process notwants, ing institutional accrediting strengths and organizations areas for improveare themselves ment, together with a judgment periodically regarding the reviewed by institution’s conthe Education tinuing accreditation status. Department The “teeth” in and officially accreditation lie recognized as in the fact that gatekeepers for institutions must federal funds. remain accred-

ited to continue to participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s extensive financial-aid programs, which include both need-based aid and low-interest student loans. Most colleges and universities participate heavily in both programs, which provide institutions with a significant amount of tuition revenue. This link between accreditation and federal funds exists because the federal government has essentially deputized accrediting organizations to review institutional quality on its behalf, in lieu of creating an extensive and expensive federal accountability process for higher education. To ensure that they are doing what the federal government wants, accrediting organizations are themselves periodically reviewed by the Education Department and officially recognized as gatekeepers for federal funds. And since about 1990, one of the most prominent conditions for continuing recognition is a requirement that accrediting organizations emphasize the assessment of student learning in their reviews of institutions. The result has been increased attention to learning outcomes by accrediting teams when they visit campuses. This greater emphasis is one of the most important reasons why board members should be aware of their institution’s activities in assessing student-learning outcomes and of how faculty and staff are J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


using assessment results to improve teaching and learning. Although accountability demands on colleges and universities have grown markedly over the past decade, mounting evidence suggests that those demands will only continue to increase. Beginning in 2007, the U.S. Department of Education began putting greater pressure on recognized accreditors to more rigorously examine institutions on the quality of their learning outcomes. That pressure came in the wake of recommendations by the Secretary’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education (commonly known as the “Spellings Commission”), issued in 2006. While the commission stopped short of suggesting that the federal government require accreditors to use standardized tests of student learning outcomes, it did encourage institutions to adopt assessment programs that would allow the competitive performance of their graduates to be determined and urged accreditors to require such an approach. As a result, more and more, accreditors will look not only at the adequacy of an institution’s assessment process, but also at what those assessments reveal about the actual levels of learning being achieved against available benchmarks. These developments are harbingers of an institutional operating environment in which accountability for academic quality is playing an ever larger part. Board members need to know about the growing salience of accountability as a driver of demands for evidence of academic quality in order to ensure that their institutions are in a position to respond.

Increased Competition in the Higher Ed Marketplace For most public institutions, state funding has become a steadily diminishing share of revenues. Public institutions have been compensating for the shortfalls by raising tuition—a tactic that most independent institutions also depend on to sustain their revenues. This state of affairs means that maintaining enrollment is a critical concern for all colleges and universities today. But most institutions are not interested in simply “maintaining enrollment”— rather, they want to recruit and attract a 12


specific kind of student body. That desire has fostered an increasingly competitive environment, as growing numbers of public and independent institutions try to attract the best (or most suitable) students available in their recruitment pools, as well as those willing and able to pay the full cost of tuition. Indeed, for many institutions, the traditional distinctions between public and independent have disappeared. Both tend to recruit from the same markets, and both increasingly use mechanisms such as institutional aid to shape their enrollments. In such an environment, evidence of an institution’s superior performance with respect to what its graduates know and can do is a valuable lever in attracting superior applicants.

A Shift Toward EvidenceBased Management A final factor stimulating the focus on academic quality has been the rise of new approaches to managing the curriculum and the teaching and learning processes. In adopting such techniques—derived, in part, from corporate practices—colleges and universities have been responding both to increased competitiveness and the fact that they have found that improved management of academic resources can help them achieve more on a fixedresource base without sacrificing quality. Institutions originally worked to improve their information resources to generate the statistics needed to respond to growing accountability demands. But much of the attraction of developing even more powerful information resources came from a different source: evidencebased management techniques, such as Total Quality Management (TQM) and Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI), which emerged in business and manufacturing in the 1990s. Many board members who work in the business and professional community are familiar with approaches like TQM and CQI and, more important, with the principles of evidence-based management that lie behind them. Where appropriate, those board members should ask administrators if and how they apply such principles. Colleges and universities first began applying quality-management techniques

drawn from business to tasks in areas where they seemed most suitable, such as the operation and maintenance of the physical plant, personnel management, financial services, and procurement. Among the most commonly used techniques were “mapping” standardized processes (such as cutting a reimbursement check) for the purpose of streamlining them, statistical process control (in such areas as purchasing) to ensure reliable consistent service, and outsourcing such functions as food services and computing. More recently, however, some of those same techniques have been fruitfully applied to processes related to teaching and learning by focusing on achieving a better understanding of the academic “production function”—that is, how students flow through a set of courses in a particular curriculum, what they experience, and the outcomes they achieve. Of particular importance is improving course sequencing so that students are immediately able to apply what they have learned in the appropriate settings. The effectiveness of those connections can then be monitored by looking at how students perform in subsequent courses in relation to what they experienced and how they performed in previous (prerequisite) courses in the same sequence. Such techniques have enabled much more effective and coherent learning experiences and have proved to be especially applicable in fields such as mathematics and in remedial coursework, which it is posMore and more, in sible to specify and accreditors will teach to concrete look not only at learning outcomes. the adequacy of They also have particularly an institution’s proved important in the assessment growing arena process, but also of technologymediated instrucat what those tional delivery. assessments Colleges reveal about and universities the actual levels are, furthermore, using the of learning of being achieved principles evidence-based against available management to benchmarks. make decisions

about the overall shape of the institution’s academic offerings—that is, what kinds of programs to offer in what fields and at what levels. Increasingly, such decisions are based in part on careful market research and needs analysis to determine the nature and extent of demand and to establish pricing policies. Evaluation of current patterns of enrollment, retention and completion, assessment results, and job or graduate-school placement data can reveal whether the institution’s current array of programs is optimal. Those evaluations may then, in turn, lead to evidence-based decisions about whether to expand capacity in a given program, scale it back, or eliminate it altogether. While academic administrators have always had to make such decisions, they now increasingly base them on concrete evidence, using a growing array of indicators of program need and performance. It is important for board members to recognize that there are limits to the applicability of quality-management techniques in academic settings. Teaching and learning are not the same as making widgets. And just because board members are

familiar with quality-management applications in business settings does not mean that they can commend them to academic leaders without qualification. At the same time, it is important for academic leaders to become aware of the appropriate potential applications of quality-management principles, and the board’s questions may be a good stimulus. In sum, these three conditions of doing business in the academy today—escalating accountability demands, increased competitiveness in the market for students, and the development of evidencebased management techniques to help deal with fiscal realities—point collectively to a growing need for new kinds of information about academic quality. Board members should realize that these conditions are not going to recede any time soon, but are instead permanent features of the higher education landscape that are shaping institutional behavior in important ways. Consequently, boards need to advocate for having the right kinds of evidence-gathering and quality-management systems in place in the realm of teaching and learning, as much as they

now advocate for new sources of revenues and greater operating efficiencies in the institution’s nonacademic functions. To succeed in this new reality, colleges and universities can no more do without a systematic program of student-outcomes assessment than they could do without a development office. And boards, which have ultimate oversight responsibility, must ensure that such a systematic program is in place. ■ AUTHOR: Peter T. Ewell is vice president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS). This article is adapted from Making the Grade: How Boards Can Ensure Academic Quality (2nd edition, AGB Press 2013). E-MAIL: T-SHIP LINKS: Carol Geary Schneider, “Three Questions about Learning and Quality.” November/December 2012. E.B. Wilson, “Academic Oversight: Asking Questions, Building Bridges.” March/April 2011. Lyn Trodahl Chynoweth, “Boards and Academic Quality.” March/April 2011. Merrill P. Schwartz, “Assessing Board Oversight of Educational Quality.” May/June 2010.

J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


Inside The New Schoolhouse: What Boards Can Do to Improve Student Learning

Learning Metrics:

How Can We Know That Students Know

What They Are Supposed to Know? â–˛ â–˛ BY ELLEN-EARLE CHAFFEE





what they pay for? Are our graduates ready to succeed? How do we know? These questions define higher education. And today, more than ever, such issues surrounding educational quality have risen to the top of the national agenda, stimulated by public concerns about the cost and value of a college degree. For both fiduciary and reputational reasons, boards must effectively oversee the educational quality of their institutions, including the appropriate ways to assess and measure it.

2 3

Institutions can provide considerable information that helps boards be more accountable for educational quality. This information generally addresses: 1) educational inputs, such as students and faculty characteristics, 2) educational processes, such as retention and graduation rates, or 3) educational outcomes such as content knowledge, writing ability, and critical-thinking proficiencies. Eight colleges and universities that have participated in a project sponsored by the Teagle Foundation have worked to identify the most appropriate and useful evidence for determining educational quality at their institutions.

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Figure 1: Educational Quality: Sources of Evidence

Direct Learning Outcomes: Knowledge, Skills

Learning Processes

▲ ▲

Inputs: Resources for Learning

Student learning outcomes, as they are called, are the crux of educational quality: Did students learn what they were expected to learn? Was their learning an appropriate return on their investment of time and money? And how can we know? These are profoundly important and difficult questions that cannot be answered as succinctly and quantitatively as can questions about financial issues, which have more standard and established metrics. Higher education as an industry is, in fact, only in the early stages of developing and implementing sophisticated, valid, and reliable assessments of student learning. The task is highly complex and likely to develop over a number of years. The number and diversity of learningoutcome expectations among programs and institutional missions make development of standardized tests difficult. Creating authentic assessments and metrics is costly, students are diverse, and expectations for what they will learn are wide-ranging. Most of the work must be done institution-by-institution, primarily by full-time faculty, because the question is not, “Did students learn anything?” Rather, the question is, “Did they learn what the institution says they should have learned?” These issues are at the heart of faculty responsibility, and they vary from one institution and program to another. Yet while institutions cannot count learning as they count dollars, and direct measures of student learning outcomes are still emerging, institutions can still provide considerable information that helps board members and the public hold them accountable for educational quality. This information generally addresses one of three “domains” of quality: • Educational inputs, such as student and faculty characteristics; • Educational processes and experiences, such as retention and graduation rates and participation in high-impact practices; and • Educational outcomes, such as content knowledge, writing ability, and criticalthinking proficiencies. Evidence within the third domain— student learning outcomes—concerns what students actually know or can do, and it can be direct or indirect. Direct

Indirect Learning Outcomes: Satisfaction, Success

Evidence of Educational Quality

evidence of student learning is typically derived from systematic analysis of their actual work—papers, performances, examinations, projects, presentations, or portfolios, for example. Indirect evidence is most often derived from surveys or interviews with students, alumni, or employers of the institution’s graduates. Research and practice also demonstrate that learning is more likely to occur under certain conditions related to faculty members, students, and other inputs as well as the educational process itself. Assessing these conditions can further inform educational quality oversight. The most meaningful information for board oversight is a thoughtful combination of direct and indirect evidence that reflects the institution’s mission and educational goals. (See Figure 1 above.)

What Boards Can Know Now Boards already receive important information about educational quality, although they may not think of it as such. Accreditation is a major source of external infor-

mation about educational quality, as are academic program reviews. Examinations for professions and standardized tests can also provide insights. In addition, some of the indicators commonly employed on board dashboards are also useful. Accreditation and Academic Program Review. One of six regional accreditors reviews all aspects of every institution, including educational quality. Accreditors have long required member institutions to demonstrate that they have the essential ingredients to gauge educational quality, assess student learning, and make improvements based on those assessments. Because regional accreditation is required for access to federal student aid, nearly all colleges and universities can use institutional accreditation as a source of information about educational quality. Specialized program accreditation reports are additional external reviews that focus entirely on field-specific education. In some cases—especially the professions of engineering, medicine, and business— specialized accreditation has led the way in shifting the spotlight from educational

inputs and processes to direct evidence of student learning. However, program accreditation is not available in all fields. Accreditation reviews occur typically only every five to eight years, and they may take two or three years of work from start to finish. Generally speaking, accreditors attest to whether institutions are doing what they say they are doing. They examine educational inputs such as entering-student test scores and faculty qualifications. They examine dozens of internal resources and activities that represent widely accepted indicators of good education such as those associated with the curriculum and instructional resources. They want to know how graduates perform on exit exams and whether they go on to appropriate advanced study or employment. Accreditation requires massive amounts of data and information, much more in quantity and detail than governing boards need annually. Accreditation is a meaningful cornerstone, but it is too infrequent, complex, and varied to fulfill all of the requirements of educational quality oversight for governing boards. In addition to accreditation, then, governing boards need more frequent, succinct, high-level evidence of how the institution is ensuring quality. Direct and Indirect Indicators. The most direct existing quantitative indicators of student learning outcomes are the examinations to qualify for admittance to a profession such as law, nursing, and teaching. Those examinations represent the best judgment of people in the field regarding what new practitioners should know and be able to do. The proportion of examinees from a given institution that passes the test is a direct indication of educational quality in that program. Programs at or near a 100 percent pass rate on such examinations can claim excellent student learning outcomes for that profession. In addition, several highly regarded standardized instruments are now available to address some aspects of student learning. (See sidebar on “National Instruments for Gathering Evidence of Student Learning” on p. 21.) In a 2010 AGB survey, 68.9 percent of boards reported that the full board or a committee received

some institutions track student engagement levels through surveys and monitor the use of high-impact teaching practices. such information to monitor student learning outcomes. Most programs do not have licensure examinations, but acceptance into graduate programs can provide similar, though more subjective, information. Placement rates and satisfaction surveys of graduates and their employers provide useful information that can also help guide program improvements. Many institutions use a dashboard to track key indicators of institutional health and strategic progress. Some indicators of educational quality may already be on the dashboard, especially those relating to educational inputs and processes. Higher retention and graduation rates suggest that the institution is meeting a variety of students’ needs and expectations, including educational quality. Based on research showing impact on student learning,

Evidence of Educational Quality Oversight: Eight Case Studies How can boards’ abilities to effectively fulfill their responsibilities related to the oversight of educational quality be strengthened? In 2011, the Teagle Foundation and AGB launched a project to help eight diverse institutions take their work on oversight of educational quality to the next level. One of the four project goals was to develop greater understanding of the evidence that would be most appropriate and useful for this work. Extensive information about the project and each institution is available on AGB’s website at Figure 2, “Sample Board Indicators of Educational Quality,” provides

Figure 2: Sample Board Indicators of Educational Quality Inputs

Educational Process

Student Learning Outcomes

Student characteristics

Retention and graduation rates

Direct Measures:

Faculty characteristics

Student/faculty ratio

Professional examinations pass rate

Student satisfaction

Multiple measures of cultures, critical thinking, communication, other learning outcomes

Teaching effectiveness % budget to instruction, academic support

Satisfactory/exemplary student outcomes in Gen Ed & major

Academic program review Indirect Measures: Graduate satisfaction, employer satisfaction Graduate placement rate Academic program improvements

J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


a high-level summary of participating institutions’ educational-quality indicators. Many indicators are quite familiar to board members, but putting them together as an educational-quality cluster helps boards recognize their potential significance, see the whole picture quickly, and consider where they may need more information. (For more detail, see each institution’s dashboard at the AGB website listed above.) All institutions that participated in the AGB-Teagle project use retention and graduation rates as part of their process of board oversight of educational quality. All institutions with programs requiring professional licensure use those examination results, too. The results of periodic academic program review are widely considered, as well. Like academic program review, some quality indicators are complex and cannot be fully represented in a dashboard format. Listed below are the ways that each participating institution in the AGBTeagle project assesses student learning, including changes and additions that it made as a result of the project. Drake University. In the past, Drake presented academic dashboard data such as retention rates, graduation rates, and professional-examination pass rates to the board, but senior administrators became concerned that the language of metrics could interfere with meaningful engagement with academic quality. The information presented to the board now includes a hybrid of previous metrics, along with some additional information and discussion that focuses on a specific aspect of academic quality, such as the academic success of students by race or ethnicity, or assessment of students’ critical-thinking skills. Metropolitan State University in Denver. In addition to retention and graduation information, the board receives the results of academic program reviews and one-year follow-up reports. Data on internships, service learning, and campus climate are also available. All academic programs are required to have a process to assess student learning outcomes. Faculty members in each academic program determine the appro18


priate student learning outcomes and the best sources of evidence of student achievement. The university is now considering how best to summarize results for board review. Morgan State University. The Morgan State board asked for a dashboard to track progress on the strategic plan. Educational quality was built into the dashboard, the university plan, and the strategic plans of units within the university. The dashboard includes indirect measures such as enrollment, retention, and graduation rates. In addition, the university has provided board members with information about student performance on the university’s writing proficiency examination. Oral communication performance is also reviewed, and the university plans to identify additional indicators of educational quality. Rhodes College. The Rhodes College board has a relatively deep understanding of educational quality as a result of reports, experiences, and discussions held over time. While continuing those activities, the board is adding an initiative to follow specific success markers through four stages of the student lifecycle and track participation in the following highimpact educational practices: first-year seminars and experiences, common intellectual experiences, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity/ global learning, service learning and community-based learning, internships, and capstone courses and projects. The college is also evaluating the quality of those practices. In addition, Rhodes uses national indicators such as the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) as well as local measurements (for example, rubrics for programlevel assessment) in its assessment of educational quality. Discussions are underway regarding how to best

What is most similar among them is the commitment to more and better direct student learning assessment at the institution level, the use of both direct and indirect evidence of student learning, and the engagement of board members not only with the indicators, but also with what they mean, how they are developed, and how the institution responds.

summarize and share this information with the board. Rochester Institute of Technology. RIT has developed a model that integrates its dashboard on academic quality into the institution’s strategic vision and assessment framework. In addition to an array of input and process metrics, the institution is developing indicators of learning outcomes to be included in the alumni survey in 2014. The board also reviews the institution’s results on the National Survey of Student Engagement, employer surveys, and co-op evaluations. Salem State University. Board members at Salem State use a dashboard with inputs and educational process indicators, and they discuss academic-program and accreditation reviews and key quality issues regularly. Indicators of student learning outcomes are under development. Salem State participates in the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education “Vision Project,” which has a process to identify student learning indicators to help enhance student learning and success. Salem State also participates in Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP), an initiative of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) that uses rubrics to assess student learning in liberal education. St. Olaf College. St. Olaf has developed a matrix of indicators of educational quality for a broad array of inputs, processes, and outcomes. The section on student learning outcomes matches results from a variety of institutional-level assessment instruments with the college’s stated mission-based outcome expectations. Some of the indicators are derived from direct assessment of student work in courses and on nationally administered tests, such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment. Others are indirect, consisting of items or item clusters from high-quality surveys: the National Survey of Student Engage-

ment, Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS)-Alumni, and HEDSResearch Practices. (See Sidebar on page 21.) Valparaiso University. Valparaiso reports to the board on a variety of input, process, and outcome indicators, including results of academic program reviews and the percent of operating budget devoted to instruction and academic support relative to peers. Discussions and mutual understanding between faculty members and board members about key quality issues, such as academic innovation and MOOCs (massive open online courses), is an important aspect of Valparaiso’s approach to board oversight of educational quality. Variations among the eight institutions reflect each board’s prior experiences and culture, the college or university’s evolution in student learning assessment, and other factors. The approach used by one institution might make little sense at another. What is most similar among them is the commitment to more and better direct assessment of student learning at the institution level, the use of both direct and indirect evidence of student learning, and the engagement of board members not only with the indicators, but also with what they mean, how they are developed, and how the institution responds. For example, suppose that the pass rate on a professional examination declines from 98 percent to 90 percent over a three-year period. Worthwhile board discussion might focus on what changes could have led to the decline, what has already been done to reverse the trend, whether employer surveys or placement rates have also suffered, and what it will take to support an effective action plan for recovery.

Next Steps for Boards Experiences of the eight institutions in the AGB-Teagle project confirm the value of selecting and assembling evidence to support board oversight of educational quality. The questions and discussions along the way are important learning experiences for all involved, and the resulting core set of key indicators provides compelling focal points for joint, ongoing work J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


Evidence of Educational Quality: Questions for Board Members • How well does the board understand what the institution aims to accomplish in terms of learning outcomes?

• Do we understand how accreditation works and what accreditations we do or do not have?

• Does the institution use accreditation results to improve student learning and the environment for learning?

• Does the board support efforts to improve educational quality where the evidence indicates improvement is needed?

• Is educational quality here better than it used to be? How do we know? • Do we understand any special challenges to educational quality that may face the institution?

• Which indicators of educational quality are most important to this institution? What performance levels does the institution need to achieve those indicators?

• Would an educational-quality dashboard be useful for us? Is our existing dashboard useful? Do we use educational quality evidence in our decision making?

for continuous improvement. The AGBTeagle project has reinforced that, in determining educational quality, boards must grapple with the following questions: • What evidence should we use? Start with direct indicators of student learning outcomes that are appropriate for institution-level oversight, such as pass rates on professional examinations. Add indirect indicators of student learning outcomes like graduate and employer surveys. Determine which input and process indicators are most appropriate for the institution’s mission and goals and are most likely to impact student learning outcomes. Engage board members, select administrators, and faculty members in deciding what to include and revisit the decisions as needed. Consider aligning indicators with key expectations the institution has for its graduates. Select thoughtfully to develop the smallest reasonable number of sound indicators that are most meaningful for the institution. Do not be surprised if many of your indicators are similar to those of other institutions. Conversely, do not be surprised if some are quite different. The fundamental criterion 20


Higher education as an industry is, in fact, only in the early stages of developing and implementing sophisticated, valid, and reliable assessments of student learning.

is that they make sense for the institution at this time. Use existing data for indirect indicators, but encourage investment in new measures for direct student learning outcomes. • How can we get the most value from the evidence? Many of the most important indicators cannot be well represented in numbers, and some of the numbers are less precise than what financial or enrollment information can provide. In most cases, it is more worthwhile to ask, for example, how a rubric works than to wonder whether a metric’s change from one year to the next is statistically significant. Evidence means little unless board members gain some understanding of how the institution produces and assesses quality. Meaningful oversight requires both understanding and evidence. The right indicators are the ones that lead to the right interactions and follow-up. Discuss the educational quality information contained in accreditation reports and academic program review. Use them as opportunities to build understanding about what it takes to produce and assess educational quality. Finally, accept that much work remains to be done. As one participant put it, most institutions are “still struggling to find the critical 50,000-foot evidence that will tell the learning story effectively to the board.” Peter T. Ewell, a national leader on educational quality and author of Making the Grade (AGB Press, 2nd edition, 2013), encourages board members to expect and demand a culture of evidence, recognize that educational quality evidence raises questions more often than it gives final answers, and review quality evidence as a regular part of board activity. Quality evidence can provide a common language and framework with which to build rewarding new collaborations among faculty, students, board members, and administrators on their most significant shared responsibility. ■

National Instruments for Gathering Evidence of Student Learning Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) Developed by the Council for Aid to Education, the CLA uses performance-based tasks to evaluate critical thinking skills of students. CLA+ measures critical thinking, problem solving, scientific and quantitative reasoning, writing, and the ability to critique and make arguments. ( National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Survey items represent empirically confirmed “good practices” in undergraduate education, those associated with desired outcomes of college. “NSSE doesn’t assess student learning directly, but survey results point to areas where colleges and universities are performing well and aspects of the undergraduate experience that could be improved.” ( Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) CCSSE is a “tool that helps institutions focus on good educational practice and identify areas in which they can improve their programs and services for students. . . . CCSSE asks about institutional practices and student behaviors that are highly correlated with student learning and retention.” ( Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) ACT offers a “standardized, nationally normed assessment program that enables postsecondary institutions to assess, evaluate, and enhance student learning outcomes and general education program outcomes.” ( Association of American Colleges and Universities’ (AAC&U) “Essential Learning Outcomes” Rubrics Through its Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) program, AAC&U has identified a robust set of “Essential Learning Outcomes” representing the knowledge and proficiencies developed by a contemporary liberal education. ( cfm) HEDS - Alumni The HEDS Alumni Survey is designed to assess the long-term impact of teaching practices and institutional conditions on liberal-education outcomes such as critical thinking, information literacy, and problem solving. It also examines postgraduate employment outcomes, college debt, and college satisfaction. ( HEDS - Research Practices Survey The HEDS Research Practices Survey is a short survey that collects information on students’ research experiences and assesses information literacy skills. ( research-practices-survey)

AUTHOR: Ellen-Earle Chaffee is a senior fellow

at AGB and president emerita of Valley City State University. E-MAIL: J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


Inside The New Schoolhouse: What Boards Can Do to Improve Student Learning

Lessons Learned about Student Learning: ▲ ▲


Eight Test Cases

The progress—and setbacks—of eight institutions that served as test cases have yielded a set of lessons about board oversight of educational quality from which others can benefit:


Ensure a sufficient institutional-assessment capacity. Start with what you already have. Make academic quality a priority of the board and institutional leaders. Attach the effort to other activities. Educate the board on education. Find the right focus. Allow for targeted deeper dives. Develop new board processes and use time differently. Deepen the engagement of the board with faculty.



support of the Teagle Foundation, has been engaging eight diverse institutions to improve their boards’ oversight of educational quality and student learning. Specifically, the project has had four pillars of focus: • Metrics of student learning (direct and indirect student learning outcomes); • Board assurance that institutions are engaging their students in high-quality learning experiences; • Changes in the work of the board to better focus on student learning and academic quality; and • New ways that faculty, administrators, and board members should engage one another.


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tion what data it currently collects and how The eight institutions—Drake Uniit uses it. Drake University in Iowa began versity, Metropolitan State University of its efforts by undertaking an audit to cataDenver, Morgan State University, Rhodes College, Rochester Institute of Technology, logue all the assessment data that it already had. The administration and staff identified Salem State University, St. Olaf College, 16 different student learning assessments and Valparaiso University—have served currently in use or recently used, including as test cases to understand what informastandardized national tests such as the Coltion can be valuable to the board and how legiate Learning Assessment (CLA) and the boards can adopt new practices to better National Survey of Student Engagement oversee student learning. (See article on (NSSE), student licensure examinations in student learning metrics on page 15.) The professional fields such as pharmacy, and experiences of each of these eight instituinstitutionally developed assessment efforts tions provides insight into the elements that already existed and had legitimacy on that contribute to successful board engagethe campus. That saved the institution from ment in the oversight of student learning having to simultaneously build, test, and and educational quality as well as potential pitfalls to be avoided. Their progress—and validate new assessment methods. In addition, all institutions already setbacks—have yielded a set of lessons from have data related to student success and which others can benefit: academic quality—such as persistence Ensure a sufficient institutionaland graduation rates—that they can draw assessment capacity. The starting point for any institution and board is the capacity upon to share with the board on a regular basis. This data can be reported by variables to assess student learning and academic important to the institution such as major or quality. Without such institutional capacity—which consists of agreed-upon student field of study, or race/ethnicity and gender. Alumni surveys can learning goals and outalso prove to be a source comes, an assessment Boards of the of valuable information. infrastructure, and an eight participating Rochester Institute institutional commitof Technology in New ment to act on the findinstitutions learned York modified a fairly ings—the board will that by linking traditional alumni survey have little foundation the oversight of to add dimensions of upon which to establish educational quality student learning outits work. While regional to other priorities or comes and educational accreditation requires activities, they were impact. The survey now some degree of student able to make more asks alumni to note the learning assessment, tangible progress. levels of effectiveness not all institutions can and importance of outprovide boards with the comes such as critical necessary, comprehenthinking, ethical reasoning and action, oral sive information about the institution and communication, and creative and innovaits various programs on a regular basis. tive thinking. The first question boards should ask of Make academic quality a priority of the academic leaders is: To what extent do we board and institutional leaders. Instituhave adequate assessment data? Depending tions that made the most progress in the on the answer, the follow-up questions at AGB-Teagle project had a strong partnermany institutions may well be: What must ship between the chief academic officer and happen in order to develop and maintain the chair of the academic affairs committee. that ability? And when will this capacity be The chief academic officer and the acain place? demic affairs committee chair can assemble Start with what you already have. the right working group and create time in Because most institutions have made at least busy agendas to identify valuable metrics some progress assessing student learning and collect needed data. Those individuals outcomes and academic quality, a board are central to creating new board processes would be wise to start by asking the institu24


and restructuring board committee agendas. When both leaders make the board’s oversight of educational quality a priority, progress happens. Furthermore, the board chair and president need to be publicly committed to the effort. They may not play a direct role, but their blessing is important to keeping efforts on track and ensuring that attention to educational quality remains a priority for the institution and the board. Successful efforts to engage the board must also rely on assessment staff, faculty leaders, members of the academic affairs committee, and other campus administrators. That is especially the case because board oversight of educational quality is an endeavor that is likely to take more than a year to launch and embed. Some institutions in the project had turnover in key positions that impeded their progress. While boards cannot avoid that, they can work to ensure some stability on the academic affairs committee and in major leadership positions, recognizing that such efforts require many consistent hands. Attach the effort to other activities. Boards of the eight participating institutions learned that by linking the oversight of educational quality to other priorities or activities, they were able to make more tangible progress. For example, Salem State University in Massachusetts found value in linking to a statewide “Vision Project” led by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. Morgan State University in Maryland linked its work on educational quality to its strategic planning work. Similarly, Metropolitan State University of Denver linked educational quality activities to its strategic plan and to a “Performance Contract” signed with the State of Colorado. By tapping the momentum of other efforts, boards and institutions can benefit from assessment work done for other purposes, find synergies, and avoid having to re-create the proverbial wheel. Educate the board on education. Institutions that participated in the AGB-Teagle project found that they needed to educate board members on academic issues, educational quality, student learning goals, and outcomes assessment. They had to explain how and why they do program review, for instance, and the particulars of high-impact

educational practices and the research supporting them. They spent time briefing board members on the language and practices of assessment, as well as the current debate surrounding its application. Rhodes College in Tennessee sought to educate board members about the concepts of student achievement and educational quality and how these issues are currently thought of across higher education. They wanted boards to understand the topic they were being asked to discuss and the nuances surrounding it. Unlike other issues, such as finance, to which board members often bring deep understanding and personal expertise, academic quality and student

8 Ways to Gauge Student Learning By Maurice C. Taylor team from Morgan State University participated in the AGB-Teagle project and, based on our experience, we recommend that boards and senior administrators follow these practices:


1. Know the major institutional assessments due each year. Over the course of the AGB-Teagle project, we at Morgan had two significant assessment initiatives underway: 1) a request that each college and school develop a strategic plan with outcomes metrics, along with a dashboard to benchmark progress towards the goals of the university’s overall strategic plan, and 2) a “Periodic Review Report” to accreditors that included mission-based assessment goals for student learning, academic programs, services, and administrative processes. Those initiatives contributed to the regents’ oversight of student learning outcomes during the project. 2. Provide board members with professional-development opportunities. Boards should ensure that their members attend meetings and engage in other activities focused on educational quality and student learning outcomes. At Morgan, the chair of the academic and student affairs committee participated in the AGB-Teagle project and made sure that other regents were briefed on the university’s efforts to develop metrics on student learning outcomes, as well as raised other issues about and called for reports on academic quality. 3. Include experts on information technology on board task forces. The Morgan team also benefitted from having a member who could translate the project goals of developing board-level metrics on learning outcomes into data that could be routinely gathered. Equally important was that person’s ability to explain to regents the scope and limitations of metrics. 4. Develop university-wide student learning outcomes. While a university-wide report and those for accreditators and legislators are important, they produce far more data and measures than board members need. As a result of the project, we began to try to develop a concise set of measures related specifically to academic quality and student learning outcomes, linked to Morgan’s mission and vision statements.

learning, in particular, require additional education and information. Institutions participating in the project took a variety of approaches to helping board members get up to speed. At some institutions, this education was embedded into committee meeting work. Other boards used retreats to convey this information. Rochester Institute of Technology gave Peter T. Ewell’s book, Making the Grade (AGB Press, 2nd edition, 2013), to the education committee and discussed several key questions: What matters when judging academic quality? What does the education committee see its role as? What type of indicators does the board want to receive? Find the right focus. The challenge at many institutions is not too little data, but rather too much. Institutions have no shortage of folders of data related to student learning and educational quality, ranging from grades in individual courses to student academic portfolios to nationally normed

5. Make metrics inform board members’ questions. The purpose of reporting data and metrics specifically related to student learning outcomes is to assist board members in raising the right questions about academic quality at the institution. 6. Use meeting agendas effectively. Often board meetings are organized around hot topics that rarely relate to academic quality or student learning outcomes. Instead, they focus on budgets, facilities, athletics, and capital campaigns. Questions about curriculum, academic performance, and student learning outcomes should be a key part of the agenda. 7. Rotate the memberships of the board’s standing committees. Board members are often nominated or selected to serve because they possess a particular skill or expertise. For example, the academic and student affairs committee is often reserved for trustees who work in higher education. But boards should rotate the committee memberships so all board members have some experience with the issues concerning academic performance and student learning outcomes. 8. Take the long view. Board chairs, in particular, should take a view of the institution that extends beyond that of the president and other board members. It is ultimately the chair who is responsible for the board’s meeting agenda, committee assignments, the nature of the metrics the board receives, and whether it gives sufficient attention to the long-term measurement of student learning outcomes. Maurice C. Taylor is a vice president at Morgan State University in Maryland and a board member at Juniata College in Pennsylvania.

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tests to academic program review reports. The challenge is to figure out how to “roll up” that data in a meaningful way so as to allow the board to focus on the right top-line data. Rochester Institute of Technology has two indicators of student learning outcomes in its strategic plan. They roll up programlevel assessment data of student learning outcomes from an annual progress report and provide the board with two core met-

Framing Board Work At St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Valparaiso University in Indiana, board leaders and administrators crafted a discussion around what the work of the academic affairs committee should be. To help frame that conversation, they identified a set of action verbs—for example manage, oversee, monitor, ensure, approve, facilitate, review—and topical areas—such as student learning, retention and completion, program quality, academic planning, educational environment. They then had the committee work through their charge by defining, discussing, and applying action verbs to content areas. They discussed, for example, whether the board monitors student learning, ensures student learning, or reviews student learning. What does each of those terms mean in relation to the work the board should be doing? In relation to academic quality? St. Olaf College’s and Valparaiso University’s Matching Template

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❑ Monitor ❑ Ensure ❑ Oversee ❑ Measure ❑ Evaluate ❑ Approve ❑ Facilitate ❑ Review


Board Work: The Process of Finding the Right Verbs and Subjects ❑ Student learning ❑ Student success ❑ Retention and


❑ Program quality ❑ Accreditation ❑ Academic


❑ Educational




board members in creative ways without rics: 1) the percentage of programs that meet or exceed the established benchmarks overwhelming them with data. Develop new board processes and use of student learning outcomes and 2) the time differently. The oversight of student percentage of programs that practice datalearning by most boards requires that they driven continuous improvement. do things differently, such as developing Allow for targeted deeper dives. While new processes and habits. A place to start is the goal is to create high-level metrics for the board, institutions found it beneficial to with the charge of the academic affairs comfocus more deeply on some key issues (criti- mittee. Valparaiso University, for instance, realized that it needed a new committee cal thinking, for example) or on key procharge that reflected an intensified focus on gram areas (graduate education or general educational quality. (See box on page 27.) education). The opportunities to go more While student learning and academic deeply into an issue or a degree program, coupled with the broader, topline overview, quality are important, time must be intentionally scheduled in committee and board helped boards feel comfortable with two agendas to sufficiently engage the board. levels of oversight. For instance, the board at Morgan State Otherwise such tasks tend to get shortUniversity focused on its junior writing pro- changed, as boards meet infrequently and often for short periods of time. Complex ficiency exam. This focus helped the board and nuanced issues and those in which the concentrate more intentionally on student learning across the institution. At Metropol- board has little experience simply require more time. itan State University of Denver, the board Institutions also developed the practice undertook an intensive investigation into its of intentionally structuraviation programs. The ing a 12- to 18-month provost’s office provided calendar of topics related significant data on that By tapping the to educational qualprogram and engaged momentum of other ity for their boards to the board in a discussion address. For example, of its strengths and areas efforts, boards and for growth. institutions can benefit at Rochester Institute of Technology, the first Rhodes College from assessment and third meetings of focused its deeper dive work done for other the education committee on “high impact pracpurposes, find now highlight a partices” that have been synergies, and avoid ticular academic quality shown to lead to deep having to re-create the practice or issue, such learning. Examples proverbial wheel. as academic programincluded the percent level assessment, online of students within each education and academic class that have particiquality, or international programs and pated in efforts such as learning communiglobal education. During each of these ties, undergraduate research, study aboard meetings, the committee engages in intenand internships, and senior capstone tionally structured, focused discussions. projects. The committee’s middle meeting of the At Metropolitan State University of year focuses on the academic quality dashDenver, the board held a retreat that dediboard—the institution’s overall indicators cated the entire morning to student learnof academic success and student learning. ing and educational quality. They created Such intentional scheduling helps embed a topline summary report (supported by student learning firmly into busy meeting 70+ pages of appendices) that focused on agendas. It also allows institutions and academic goals, strategies, and measures of boards to create a long-term and integrated success to support the discussion. They also view of educational quality that can touch piloted a new academic dashboard to begin to build consistent reports over time. As part upon many elements. Deepen the engagement of the board of the retreat, they developed a “Jeopardy” with faculty. The boards of the participating game of academic issues to engage their nine

institutions were more easily able to oversee academic quality when they and the faculty created new ways to interact. All too often, faculty-board interactions are confined to faculty presentations or “dog and pony shows.” Through this project, institutions experimented with new ways to more deeply expose board members to faculty and to student learning. For example, at Rhodes College, the president initiated “The President’s Common Table,” an informal working group of three board members, three faculty members, one staff member, and one student to serve as a conduit between the board members who charged the group with strategic questions and tasks and the internal college community. The president then, in response to board requests, structured nine additional faculty members, student, and staff cross-functional common tables that further discussed strategic issues related to educational quality. The college developed a

Valparaiso University’s Revised Academic Affairs Committee Charge (an excerpt) s its overarching responsibility, the Committee shall foster such policies that contribute to the best possible environment for students to learn and develop their abilities, and that contribute to the best possible environment for the faculty to teach, pursue their scholarship, and perform public service, including the protection of academic freedom. To that end, the Committee is responsible for the following areas:


• Academic Programs. The Committee shall review and recommend to the Board approval of significant academic program changes or administrative changes established in conjunction with such programs that have substantial impact upon either the mission or the financial condition of the university. Such changes might include (a) creation of new academic programs, (b) significant revision of existing academic programs, and (c) discontinuation of academic programs. The Committee shall receive and may endorse reports on other academic program changes. • Academic Organizations. The Committee shall review and recommend to the Board approval of significant academic organizational changes that have substantial impact upon either the mission or the financial condition of the university. Such changes might include (a) the establishment of new academic organizations (e.g., campuses, institutes, colleges or schools), (b) significant changes to existing academic organizations, and (c) the discontinuation of academic organizations. The Committee shall receive and may endorse reports on other academic organizational changes. • Academic Relationships. The Committee shall monitor the policies and practices that govern the many different kinds of academic relationships between the University and other entities, such as joint ventures or contractual relationships with other academic institutions. • Assessment. The Committee shall periodically review the University’s practices in assessing the performance of its academic programs and practices and receive reports of such assessments. • Accreditation. The Committee shall monitor the University’s participation in all accreditation processes. (For full version, see

structured way to engage various constituencies, including the faculty, in strategic conversations important to the board. At Drake University, board members participated in “Mini-College,” an experience in which select board members took short, interactive courses consisting of highimpact pedagogies. Board members got to experience cutting-edge education and then debriefed the faculty on their experience during a lunch meeting.

Conclusion: Still Incomplete The work of the eight teams yielded many insights and helpful materials that other

boards might use to engage constructively with academic quality and student learning. Yet, the teams of board members, administrators, and faculty leaders found that progress also raised new and often more difficult questions. Two particularly challenging ones that surfaced and will need attention were: • How should institutions balance the competing goals of assessment for accountability purposes and for improvement? These two goals easily come into conflict. Assessment findings that show areas of improvement might not be those that the institution wants made public. • How can institutions demonstrate the value-added of the education they provide? Most assessments focus on a level of demonstrated student proficiency. While that is important, institutions may be better served by understand-

ing how much students learn and the approaches through which they learn the most. Correspondingly, they should know the areas in which students learn the least. The institutions in the project made tremendous progress in the oversight of educational quality, but all would clearly acknowledge that their work continues. Even those institutions that started the two-year project with robust assessment efforts and growing board engagement would admit that they are only beginning to engage the board in the right way on student learning and educational quality. Indeed, the work to engage the board appropriately in student learning and educational quality will be a long and complex journey for most colleges and universities. Those that find the work straightforward are probably not asking the necessary questions. ■ J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


Inside The New Schoolhouse: What Boards Can Do to Improve Student Learning

CompetencyBased Education: What the Board Needs to Know



by potentially disruptive developments surfacing almost daily: escalating college costs, unacceptably low degree-completion rates, and the advent of new technologies and competitive new providers, among others. Further fueling the disruption discourse is the uneasy sense that despite soaring college costs, the quality of student learning is falling well short of what the 21st century demands of our graduates and the needs of the economy and our democracy. Traditionally, a college degree has been considered in terms of “seat time”—students completing a stipulated number of courses and credit hours. Increasingly, that concept of higher education is being replaced by teaching and learning approaches that specify desired outcomes and focus squarely on evidence of student performance—what students actually know and can do with what they know.

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Increasingly, higher education is moving away from “seat time”—students completing a stipulated number of courses and credit hours—toward an approach that focuses on what students actually know and can do with what they know. Competency-based education may have an even bigger impact than online earning in continuing to broaden student access to a college degree. The lesson for governing boards is that sound academic process alone is no longer sufficient to ensure quality or guide continuous improvement. Attention to learning outcomes is equally important.

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One prominent model representing that shift is competency-based education (CBE), which some observers suggest might have an even bigger impact than online learning such as MOOCs (massive open online courses) in continuing to broaden access to a college degree. In March 2013, the U.S. Department of Education released a letter endorsing competency-based education, encouraging institutions to seek federal approval for programs that don’t rely on credit hours as a measure of learning. In December, the department invited institutions to submit ideas to test innovations like competency-based education in “experimental sites.” The field responded quickly. Lumina Foundation is supporting two efforts: 1) the Competency-Based Ed Network (CBEN) coordinated by Public Agenda that will include up to 20 institutions, and 2) the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) that will work with another 20 institutions at an early stage of developing competency-based programs. In addition, with Gates Foundation sponsorship, Educause’s Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) initiative will work with selected institutions using a Breakthrough Models Incubator to create such programs. Public Agenda, CAEL, and Educause are coordinating their efforts to learn from one another going forward in order to maximize the benefits. As growing numbers of institutions are considering launching some form of competency-based education, accreditors are engaging in conversations with institutions and one another about how to review such new programs and ensure their quality. Clearly, the CBE movement is gathering momentum. What should boards know about competency-based education and— equally important—what should they do about it in their fiduciary role?

Understanding the Basics Competency-based education is a term that can apply to a range of different kinds of postsecondary degree programs. At the same time, every CBE program has two distinguishing features: • A competency framework. Competency-based programs start by defining the competencies required of 30


their graduates. The competencies are statements describing what graduates should know and be able to do. Those competencies included in a framework will vary by area of study or major, with different levels of the same competency distinguishing an associate’s degree from a bachelor’s degree. Think of a competency framework as the skeleton around which the degree program is designed. For example, the competencies for Western Governors University’s (WGU’s) bachelor of science in information technology, software emphasis, are organized in “courses” such as foundations of college mathematics, which addresses the following competencies: ■ The student utilizes the operations, processes, and procedures of basic numeracy and calculation skills to solve quantitative problems in arithmetic and basic algebra. ■ The student applies the operations, processes, and procedures of basic algebra to solve quantitative problems. ■ The student utilizes the operations, processes, and procedures of basic geometry and measurement to solve problems in mathematics. ■ The graduate evaluates quantitative data by interpreting statistical and graphic representations and solves basic probability problems. (See complete program guide at www.

• Competency-based assessments. It is one thing for an institution to assert that its graduates have a specific set of competencies. It is quite another for it to verify that claim through valid and reliable assessments. CBE programs invest significant time and resources in competency-based assessments through which students demonstrate what they know and can do. Reaching the predetermined proficiency levels in those assessments is a requirement for graduation, so graduates who go on to work or further study are able to say with confidence (and have the data to prove) that they have demonstrated all of the competencies in the program’s framework. Individual CBE programs can vary quite a bit in how they operationalize the competency framework and the associated competency-based assessments. Some institutions follow a conventional path: They develop a competency framework from which the curriculum and individual faculty lesson plans are designed, and then integrate assessments into the regular credit-based course offerings. Other institutions do something entirely different by relying on competency-based assessments only. That is, students aiming for a baccalaureate degree do not necessarily accumulate 120 credits or take an average of four to five semester-length courses across the equivalent of eight semesters. Rather, students need to successfully pass the institution’s series of program-related, competency-based assessments in order to graduate. How they acquire the requisite knowledge and skills varies from program to program—and student to student. Some programs provide highly structured online learning modules, while others provide suggested learning activities that can include read-

ings, lectures, project-based learning, or short online courses. Students also may have acquired some of the learning from their previous life, work, or military experiences. The same approach applies to associate’s degree programs and certificates.

Degrees through Assessment Of course, assessment is not the only defining feature of CBE programs. The assessments are not easy; they require students to demonstrate college-level learning outcomes. And to do that, students need to gain additional knowledge to build on what they already know. Faculty members play an important role in guiding and coaching the student to acquire the learning they need, and there are many other support functions, such as advising, incorporated into these programs. But the important underlying premise of CBE-based programs is that what students know and can do is more important than how they learned it or how long it took to learn. While colleges and universities have many CBE approaches from which to choose, it is the assessment-based model of CBE that has been getting a lot of attention in recent years. Perhaps the best-known assessment-based program is Western Governors University, which has been operating since the late 1990s. WGU does not offer traditional courses. Instead, students make progress toward their intended credential through online resources curated by WGU faculty. They work independently and at their own pace to learn what they need to successfully complete a series of assessments, with guidance from WGU faculty and coaches. Current offerings include teaching licensure and graduate programs, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, information technology, and nursing. WGU students are charged a flat rate of around $3,000 for a six-month term, during which they may complete as many competency-based assessments as they can. Students coming to the program with prior learning—whether from the workplace, military, or MOOCs—can use what they already know and can do to complete the assessments more quickly. Five states (Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, and

Washington) have formed partnerships between WGU and their public postsecondary systems. In recent years, several new CBE programs have emerged using variations of the assessment-based model: • Since 2008, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) has offered its online Learn on Demand modules that are mapped to associatedegree and certificate-program competencies. The modules are designed to be completed within three to five weeks, but students have the option to complete them more quickly. The assessments are individualized based on a student’s prior learning. At present, Learn on Demand offers two-year degrees in business, IT, and nursing; certificate programs; targeted skill training; and college-readiness programs. • The Northern Arizona University (NAU) Personalized Learning program offers bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts, computer information technology, and small business administration. Students take online courses or work through lessons that map to their program’s competency framework. As with the Kentucky Learn on Demand program, the learning module and assessments are calibrated to the student’s prior learning, which allows students to advance quickly through topics and competencies that they have already mastered. Launched in spring 2013, the NAU program costs $2,500 for a six-month term. • In early 2013, Southern New Hampshire University introduced College for America, which offers an associate’sdegree program based on 120 competencies. Students learn through online resources curated by the faculty and demonstrate competency mastery by completing tasks or projects evaluated by faculty members. The competencies are broken into “task families.” For instance, the task family of “using business tools” focuses on tasks like “can use a spread sheet to perform a variety of calculations.” Students pay $2,500 per year and can continue to work on a competency until they achieve it. • In November 2013, The University of Wisconsin (UW) began offering

the UW Flexible Option, developed from a partnership between University of Wisconsin System campuses and UW-Extension. The UW Flexible Option is similar to the other self-paced, assessment-based models, with coaches available to work with students to create a learning plan and prepare for assessments. At present, the programs include bachelor’s degree in nursing, biomedical sciences, diagnostic imaging, and information science and technology; a business and technical communications certificate through UW-Milwaukee; and an associate of arts and science through the UW System network of 13 two-year campuses. Several other institutions have already developed assessment-based CBE programs, including Westminster College and Capella University.

Is CBE Really Something New? The first CBE programs emerged more than 40 years ago in response to the significant changes underway in the demographic profile of American college students. The Higher Education Act of 1965, along with other federal programs at that time, prompted institutions to become more accessible to adults. One approach to serving adult students incorporated a focus on competencies— acknowledging a student’s previous learning and emphasizing performance rather than time in attendance. In the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) provided substantial grant support to develop competencybased programs at institutions with adult learning programs, including Alverno College, DePaul University School for New Learning, Empire State College, Regents College (now Excelsior College), Thomas Edison State College, and others. This focus on learning rather than on time spent in a classroom also led to advances in prior-learning assessment (PLA) for college credit. Among the more popular PLA approaches were the assessment of student portfolios promulgated by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL); standardized tests such J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


as the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), first administered by the College Board in 1967; and the Regents External Examination Program, launched by the New York Board of Regents in the 1970s. Excelsior College exams for nursing are still used today, and Excelsior’s exams in other areas are now called UExcel. Students who participated in training offered outside of an academic institution, such as the military or their employer, may also be eligible for PLA credit through credit recommendations from the National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS) or American Council on Education (ACE). While such assessmentbased approaches were important at the time and continued for the next four decades, they existed largely on the fringes of higher education, almost always at “adultfocused” institutions or in special departments of continuing studies. The programs were virtually invisible in mainstream higher education. Today, however, CBE is no longer ensconced in the adult-learning bubble; instead, it is the topic of frequent news-media coverage and congressional hearings fueled by a rapid expansion of new program offerings across the country. As illustrated in the earlier examples, many of the newer programs are based on assessments of demonstrated learning—not accumulated credit hours— to validate student progress toward degree completion. At lower levels of competence, multiple-choice and other tests of objective learning may be appropriate. At higher levels of competence, however, getting at more complex and analytical thinking requires differ32


ent kinds of assessment, such as student narratives, demonstrations, simulations, or performance-based assignments. An example of the latter might be an assignment that requires students to develop a memorandum that examines the proposals from two vendors—a task through which the student demonstrates written communication, computational, and analytical reasoning proficiencies applied to a concrete problem situated in a business context.

Implications for Boards Most governing board members don’t think of their institution as “competency-based education” campuses, as we use the term in this article. Western Governors University, Southern New Hampshire University, The University of Wisconsin, and other pace-setters employ specially designed assessments of incoming and enrolled students to determine what they know and can do as a result of work and life experience, studies at other institutions, and current learning activities. For the entire higher education enterprise, the CBE movement signals a shift in focus away from a reliance on the processes of learning (courses, credits, grades, years enrolled) as the primary indicator of quality toward the confirmation of student accomplishment (the actual knowledge, proficiencies, and dispositions students have acquired). In fact, over the last decade, various groups, both in America and abroad, have devoted substantial effort to defining more precisely desired learning outcomes. Among the best known and most influential are the Essential Learning Outcomes promulgated in 2007 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) as part of its multi-year Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) campaign, and the five proficiency domains defined

by Lumina Foundation in 2011 in the Degree Qualifications Profile (DPQ). What does all this mean for governing boards? Without question, the processes of learning—student and faculty engagement, curricular rigor, richness and coherence, and other time-honored ways in which students learn—remain important. The lesson for governing boards, however, is that sound academic process alone is no longer sufficient to ensure quality or guide continuous improvement. Attention to learning outcomes is equally important. Some of the questions that a board should consider about competency-based education include: • Is this approach appropriate for our institution? • What does it mean for us competitively if other institutions are offering this approach? • What would it take for us to pilot or adopt this approach? • Does this approach work better for some of our students than others? • How does our institution develop such a program while maintaining or improving quality and academic rigor? Boards should also: Make student learning a high, continuing priority. Even though presidents and boards have limited powers, they can exert influence by framing the agenda and shaping board and campus conversations. Beyond faculty giving students grades in individual courses, what data are collected to obtain evidence of student performance and used to improve it? How is this evidence shared within the institution? Is this information available in a meaningful form to prospective students, employers, and accreditors? Presidents and governing boards can make sure these issues are given proper priority on an already crowded institutional agenda. Clarify the roles and responsibilities for ensuring academic quality within the board’s structure and processes. Most boards assign special responsibility for academic matters to an academic affairs or educational policy committee, but the board as a whole must be involved. The question of what constitutes academic quality too often takes the form of

program reviews that focus on curricular offerings and faculty credentials, with too little attention to evidence of what students are actually learning. Understanding roles and responsibilities for the oversight of academic quality through the assessment of student learning outcomes can be a significant step forward in positioning the board, the administration, and the faculty to work together in this key arena. Appreciate the promise but understand the limits of assessment. Those who advocate greater attention to the assessment of student learning (count us among them!) would do well to do so with humility. Assessment tools, especially standardized tests, have their limits. Students may not be motivated to do their best in assessment exercises, especially if the results are of no personal consequence. Relevant learning outcomes are not always easy to define. The aim of some learners is self-actualization; for others, it is liberal learning and critical thinking. Still others may have career goals that take primacy, and, for others, the aim may be further education in graduate or professional school. Even those institutions that count themselves as “competency-based education” campuses face the daunting challenge of meaningful assessment. Boards can help by setting a tone of informed inquiry rather than suggesting judgmental certainty. Stay focused on the big picture and key actions that should flow from evidence of student learning. Colleges and universities tend to be highly decentralized. Authority and responsibility for the assessment of student learning are distributed among members of the faculty, various colleges, departments, academic programs, and in student affairs units. Some studies, such as student and employer surveys, are conducted annually; others, only periodically. And, occasionally, evidence may be assembled and used in connection with accreditation and academic program reviews. Too often, however, the results of assessments of student learning outcomes do not lead to action. To what ends is this information being used in institutional decision making and to improve student

outcomes and institutional performance? The board should expect that examples of productive use of assessment be presented in an understandable, coherent way so that it can be confident that the internal academic-quality controls of the institution are operating effectively. The chief academic officer and president are central actors in this effort, with the board providing the enabling authority while also benefitting from the periodic, comprehensive summaries of student accomplishment and institutional effectiveness.

Final Words As new kinds of students with new needs are admitted, as technology continues to transform teaching and learning, as institutional missions evolve and priorities shift, and as new financial models are required, evidence of student learning will become even more important. In part, the competency-based education movement is a response to growing concerns about both the quality and the cost of higher education. CBE’s sharp focus on student learning outcomes is designed to validate the quality of the degree, while its technology-based approach to learning has the potential to lower cost for students and their families. Even though CBE is not yet in the mainstream of American higher education, the odds are that many of its fundamental lessons soon will be. It has much to teach us, as these programs tend to serve nontraditional students who are learning in nontraditional ways. Confirmation of learning outcomes— competence—is a fundamental issue confronting every higher education institution and every learner. Whatever the challenge—defining the essence of what it means to be an educated person, improving student retention and graduation rates, or dealing with shrinking budgets and disruptive technology—integral to crafting a strategic response will be evidence about the extent to which students have learned what the institution promises and its students and society need. What is happening with regard to teaching and learning and the nature of the student experience? What are the outcomes? And how can they be improved?

Boards and institutions must continue to search for answers to these perennial questions. The quality of American higher education depends on it. ■ AUTHORS: Rebecca Klein-Collins is the senior director of research and policy development at the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). Stanley O. Ikenberry is co-principal investigator of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and the former president of the American Council on Education and the University of Illinois. George D. Kuh is Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of higher education at Indiana University at Bloomington and, with Stanley O. Ikenberry, co-principal investigator of the NILOA. He is also the founding director of the National Survey of Student Engagement and past president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education.

OTHER RESOURCES: “How Boards Oversee Educational Quality: A Report on a Survey on Boards and the Assessment of Student Learning” (AGB, 2010). AGB Statement on “Board Responsibility for the Oversight of Educational Quality” (AGB, 2011). Thomas Brock, “Young Adults and Higher Education: Barriers and Breakthroughs to Success,” The Future of Children (Vol. 20. No. 1, Spring 2010). Peter T. Ewell, Making the Grade: How Boards Can Ensure Academic Quality, 2nd Edition (AGB Press, 2013). Stanley O. Ikenberry, “Moving from Compliance to Relevance” (Keynote address to the annual Assessment Institute, Indianapolis, October 2013). Becky Klein-Collins, “Sharpening Our Focus on Learning: The Rise of Competency-Based Approaches to Degree Completion,” Occasional Paper No. 20 (National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, October 2013). George D. Kuh and Stanley O. Ikenberry, “More Than You Think, Less Than We Need: Learning Outcome Assessment in American Higher Education” (National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, 2009).

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Board Chairs and Board Professionals:

Partners in Governance BY DAV I D RU B E N S T E I N A N D R I C H A R D R I D D E L L

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A healthy relationship between the board chair and the board professional is essential to the successful running of the board, particularly in the areas of education, planning, and communication. Board members and the president will clearly see and feel the effects of a poor relationship, such as when meetings fail to be strategic and board members are confused about what is expected of them. Learning each other’s skills and maintaining a high and constant level of communication with one another can help manage the board so that its members can realize their goal of being excellent stewards of their institutions.



government, and now heads a private equity firm. The other went to Knox College, became a professional theater designer, and for the past 10 years has worked with the president and board at Duke. Now we’re a team, with one leading and the other managing the 37-member Duke board of trustees. We bring what we’ve learned separately through our various professional experiences to our collective effort to foster good governance for the university and to build the right atmosphere to enable board members to perform at a high level.



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Each of us has worked previously with other chairs and board professionals, and we have seen that each board chair and board professional team finds its own way of working. For some, weekly meetings or conference calls ensure that the board chair stays abreast of what’s happening at the institution. For us, a weekend phone call to catch up on business, and then e-mails throughout the week with short phone calls as necessary, work well to enable us to stay on top of things. At least twice a month, we make certain to hold a conference call with the institution—ideally possessing good the university president and vice chairs relationships with key administrators, of the board to discuss the latest developfaculty members, and students—and also ments and to plan future meetings. being integral to the work of the governWe both have regular contact with the ing board, through close collaboration president, who is the third member of our with the board leadership. Consequently, governance team. At Duke, the board prothey are well positioned to envision how fessional has a dual role, functioning as the new board members might best become chief of staff to the president acquainted with their instituwhile serving as secretary to tions. They can anticipate the In crisis the board. This helps faciliquestions new members will moments, tate and align the work of the ask: What is the board really we’ve found university with that of the like? What are the issues that governing board. While there it’s essential for the board has focused on in the board chair the last year? Where do I park is the potential for a conflict of interest—if the board and and the board at meetings? In planning the president find themselves professional to the orientation of new board at odds and each looks to communicate members, experienced board the board professional for very clearly and professionals seek to detersupport—we’ve found the honestly with mine what is essential for a advantages of the dual role far each other. new trustee to know and what outweigh the risk involved. is best learned over time. While we would not claim unique Often the most successful parts of insights, and surely do not feel we have per- orientation are those that enable a board fected the board chair/board professional member to experience the institution. model, we do think sharing what we have Augustana College makes sure that its learned might be helpful to others in similar new board members attend a class so situations. This article encapsulates a num- they can experience firsthand what it’s ber of the lessons we’ve learned and situalike to be a student at the college. Other tions we have observed. As we’ve reflected institutions put new board members on on our work together and on where board a bus and take them around the camprofessionals most bring value to the board pus, highlighting the changes that have chair and the work of the board, three areas taken place over the past few years or the stand out: education, planning, and commu- building projects that the board is curnication. Let’s examine each. rently engaged in planning or overseeing. Whatever the experience, it’s important to imagine what a new board member Education needs to know to get off to a good start on Trustee orientation. In assisting the board chair, board professionals are often the board, rather than just what the board chair or the president might like them to called upon to lead the process of introknow about the institution. ducing new members to their roles and Continuing education about issues in responsibilities. They have the distinct perspective of being part of the daily life of higher education. Board members bring 36


a real interest in higher education to their work on boards, but few are true experts in the field. As Bradley T. Sheares, vice chair of the Spelman College board, notes, “Education is a critical component of effective trusteeship, from understanding the mission and strategic priorities of the institution to keeping current with trends across the higher education landscape.” Board professionals often take on the responsibility of continually educating board members about current issues in higher education. While board members may read the daily newspapers, board professionals comb publications for the latest information about developments in higher education. At Duke, Richard constantly identifies, compiles, and distributes relevant articles and publications to the board. He also invites board members to bring articles to the attention of the board, so that they can help educate their fellow trustees. Every week, trustees send him articles they have read, which are then shared with the rest of the board. This ensures that a variety of points of view are distributed, since different board members read a great many different publications. If additional context is required to help trustees understand how a particular article relates to a topic before the board, the board professional can annotate the list, perhaps with the help of other administrative colleagues. By making education a priority, board professionals help board members develop a knowledge base that allows them to perform at a somewhat more informed level as issues evolve and change from meeting to meeting. What’s happening on campus. In addition to keeping board members aware of broader issues in higher education, board professionals are good at letting them know what’s happening on campus.

They do this by ensuring that board members get a link to the campus newspaper whenever it is published or by working with their colleagues in the office of public affairs to ensure that a compilation of articles about the institution is distributed regularly to the board. And while providing such information is important, board professionals are also a source of insider insights into what’s happening at the institution. What board member hasn’t called (or wanted to call) someone to find out if something he or she has heard is true? Board professionals generally know the answer—or know who does—to most questions board members may pose. David likes to meet with faculty and students on campus to learn more about what they are doing, the programs with which they are involved, and the goals they have set for themselves. Richard makes sure all such meetings are organized in a timely fashion and helps to prepare the people with whom David will meet. (For some individuals, meeting with the chair of the board can be intimidating.) Both of us follow up after these meetings to see what, if any, actions would be productive and worthwhile. Best practices in governance. Board professionals take pride in staying abreast of the latest developments in board governance. They know practices at peer institutions, often having well-developed networks of professional colleagues with whom they communicate regularly. When board chairs have questions about what’s the best practice with respect to term limits, emeriti trustees, or other issues that institutions share, they can turn to board professionals for help. “Boards frequently face questions about bylaws, charter, or precedent, and the board professional, with knowledge of the history of the institution and practices elsewhere, can guide trustees quickly to the information they need,” notes F. Duane Ackerman, former board chair at Rollins College. “They have a powerful data bank.” Gathering benchmark data, analyzing it, and recommending options for addressing governance issues is a service most board professionals provide to governing boards.

Planning Schedule of meetings and events. Board members lead busy lives that are full of

professional and personal commitments. Board chairs often rely on board professionals to plan a schedule of meetings, sometimes years in advance, and to communicate the schedule to the board in a timely manner. Board professionals know when campus events are going to take place, such as commencement, the first day of classes, or homecoming. They are also aware of other events that are important to take into account in planning a meeting schedule, such as religious holidays or annual campus events that may not involve board members but do involve the president and other administrators. In addition to planning a meeting schedule that facilitates the board’s business, board professionals are often a source of ideas for special events. They can help plan special dinners around strategic themes of the institution or identify a

stimulating faculty speaker or an inspirational student performer to complement an important dinner. At Duke, when we wanted to highlight a gift for endowed professorships that supported a strategic focus on undergraduate teaching, we staged a scene from Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, which featured a student and a tutor from the early 19th century. Board professionals typically are in constant contact with colleagues at their institutions who have the potential to enrich or enliven board meetings, and board chairs can clearly benefit from that local knowledge. Agendas. Good board meetings are generally a combination of necessary business and administrative decisions and strategic forward-looking discussions, with the best meetings having more of the latter than the former. Board professionals are trained and experienced in how the necessary

but routine business of the board can be accomplished effectively and efficiently. In cases where the board professional works closely with the president of the institution, there is a special awareness of which strategic issues are “ready for prime time,” which need more development before board action or consideration, and which would benefit from early input from board members and early feedback to the president. A good meeting agenda has a particular flow, and board professionals are well positioned to orchestrate that flow on behalf of the board chair. David likes every meeting to feature someone at the institution who recently did something extraordinary. Thus, when Duke’s Robert J. Lefkowitz won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, we made sure the board meeting started with his appearance so that board members could congratulate him directly. Work plans. Board chairs who value the assistance of board professionals in shaping agendas may also discover that planning can be extended to a series of meetings throughout the academic year. At Duke, we survey the board at the conclusion of an academic year to discover the key issues that board members want to see the board consider the following year. We then analyze the results and draft a plan for a series of board and committee meetings, which will ensure the essential issues that board members have identified are addressed. This resulting work plan can be revised as new developments and challenges unfold, but the plan keeps our board and its committees focused on what we have agreed early in the year are the institution’s main priorities. Chirag Shah, vice chair of the board at Western University in Canada, commented on a similar process at his institution, remarking that the “institutional knowledge the board professional brings by aggregating current and past discussions occurring across various committees prevents duplication of efforts.”

Communication Facilitating timely communication among the president, board chair, and trustees. Board professionals, especially those with joint responsibilities to the president and the governing board, facilitate communication between the leadership of J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


the institution and the board. Susanne Svizeny, trustee and former board chair at The College of New Jersey, has written: “During my time as chair of the board, I found that ensuring regular communication with the board professional was essential to my understanding institutional issues, and it had a direct impact on my effectiveness in facilitating the governance priorities of the board.” Board professionals can ensure that a regular method of “touching base” between the president and board chair is established—a method that works for both of their schedules. When a president is moving forward on a project that may eventually require board action, the board professional can suggest when timely communication with the board leadership would be useful for advancing that project. Also, when he or she is aware of issues that concern particular board members, the board professional can provide this information to the president and board chair,

enabling them to act promptly to manage whatever issue has emerged. When done in a professional manner, the board professional’s facilitating such prompt and informal communication can go a long way toward helping the president and board chair address new issues and potential problems constructively. In times of crisis, a board professional’s communication role can be particularly challenging. What happens when the president and the board chair aren’t on the same page, because the internal pressures on an issue are pushing the president in one direction and the external pressures are pushing the board chair in the other? Or what about the ultimate nightmare scenario for a board professional—when the board has decided to make a change in 38


leadership at the institution, but hasn’t yet informed the president? All of a sudden, knowing everything about what’s happening on the board—which in normal circumstances allows board professionals to facilitate effectively the business of the board—becomes not a small burden to bear. In crisis moments, we’ve found it’s essential for the board chair and the board professional to communicate very clearly and honestly with each other and acknowledge the conflicting loyalties of the board professional, particularly those who have dual roles with the president and the board. At such times, it’s essential for the board professional to clarify what information from the board chair is appropriate to share with the president—and vice versa. Institutions will survive; it is important to ensure that the board chair/board professional working relationship also survives. Board members’ point of contact. When board members have a question, we encourage them to contact Richard’s office, making it the primary point of contact for their communication with the institution. As Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, has noted, the board professional “is an essential part of the leadership team as she connects the governing board members to the academic, research, and service sectors of the institution.” Whether the institutional culture is one in which board members are encouraged to route communications through the president or board chair, or one in which board members are encour-

The 2014 AGB Workshop for Board Professionals will be held in conjunction with the National Conference on Trusteeship from April 10–12 in Orlando, Florida. See for details.

aged to contact administrators and faculty directly, the board professional knows whom to contact and when to do so. Presidents or board chairs who want all trustee contacts routed through the secretary’s office benefit from board professionals able to triage calls and messages and handle them in the manner desired by the leadership. And in a more open culture, board members benefit from the institutional knowledge of board professionals who can route their calls or messages to the appropriate person at the institution. Staff members appreciate this clearinghouse function of the board professional, since they don’t always know what to say to board members with whom they may have had little direct experience. Managing contacts from the campus to the board. Rare is the institution that doesn’t have deans, faculty members, or students who want to get a message to a board member. Rarer still is the institution where board members want to receive, unfiltered, all the messages and invitations from various campus constituencies. The board professional manages these communications, consulting with the leadership as necessary, so that board members are neither inundated with information nor deprived of communication that will aid their work as fiduciaries of their institutions.

Conclusion Some have described board professionals— whose work is often invisible—as people lacking big egos, since a characteristic of successful board professionals is their ability to get along with everyone and remain calm in the middle of the many crises (real and perceived) that arise in working with a governing board. One university president called his board professional “the mystery oil.” Yet beneath their calm exteriors, board professionals typically have strong drives to provide excellent support and assistance to board members in the most intelligent and imaginative way. Sherry Lansing, a regent of the University of California and former board chair, wrote this about the board

Who Are Board Professionals? rom the early days of nonprofit boards, there has been a need for someone to plan and keep track of meetings and assist board members in their work as overseers of their institutions. Often called the board secretary, this position originally was filled by a member of the board. However, as the responsibilities of governing boards became more numerous and complex, the position grew and developed. Today, the position is generally filled by a board professional who is a member of the institution’s staff or its senior leadership. And the role has evolved from being a secretary into functioning as a true partner to presidents and board chairs in the pursuit of good governance. Who are the board professionals? Institutions of higher education have a variety of missions, ranging from those that serve local communities and provide vocational training, to liberal-arts colleges that primarily educate young people at the undergraduate level, to large research institutions with complex missions that may include health care. Different institutions have different needs in supporting board members, although most have at least one staff member with responsibilities for assisting the governing board. Various models are described below.

F professional with whom she worked: “Her policy expertise, combined with her unerring instincts and resourcefulness, made my job much easier in countless ways.” Board chairs who have learned the value of board professionals call on them to help build and facilitate the operations of boards that are educated, collegial, and engaged. Our advice to fellow board chairs and board professionals: Be aware that your healthy relationship is essential to the successful running of your boards. Your board members—and your president— may not always realize how they are benefiting from your strong relationship. But they will clearly see and feel the effects of a poor relationship, such as when meetings fail to be strategic and board members are confused about what is expected of them. Learning each other’s skills and maintaining a high and constant level of communication with each other can help board members realize their goal of being excellent stewards of their institutions. ■ AUTHORS: David Rubenstein is chair of the

board of trustees at Duke University and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group. Richard Riddell is vice president and university secretary at Duke University and a trustee at Knox College. T’SHIP LINKS: Susan Whealler Johnston, Martha W. Summerville, and Charlotte Roberts. “The Changing Landscape of Trustee and Board Engagement.” July/August 2010. Alice P. Gast and Daniel E. Smith, “Five Keys to Unlocking the Value of Your Board.” May/June 2011. Lyn Trodahl Chynoweth, “Shared Lessons about the Board Chair’s Challenges.” May/June 2011. Merrill Schwartz, “The Expanding Role of Board Professionals.” September/October 2010. OTHER RESOURCES: The Role of the Board Professional (AGB, 2008).

• Given the original needs of governing boards for staff support—to take minutes and arrange meetings—some institutions continue to benefit from a secretary who works for both the president and the board. This person is a single point of contact for board members, whether they have business with the institution or the governing board. This arrangement is often found in smaller institutions, such as liberal-arts colleges.

• Larger institutions may combine the role of chief of staff to the president— someone who coordinates the president’s priorities and keeps them moving forward—with the board professional role. This has proved to be a particularly effective combination in ensuring that the president’s and the board’s priorities are aligned and moving forward in a coordinated manner.

• Still other institutions have seen value in combining support for the board with the institution’s need for legal support, and in these instances, the general counsel may also serve as the board professional. This arrangement helps ensure that the board’s policies and practices are in accord with federal and state laws and regulations.

• Finally, there are institutions, systems, and foundations where the board professional reports only to the board. Regardless of the responsibilities that a board professional may hold, his or her essential role is to enhance the work of board members and presidents as they seek to establish a high standard of governance at their institutions.

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Senior-Level Appointments:

Why, When, How? ▲ ▲





financial officer. Titles like these seem increasingly common these days. They reflect a higher education enterprise beset by change and turnover. They also indicate how often decision makers in the sector answer those challenges by appointing short-term leadership. Increasingly, we are even seeing short-term appointments of individuals from outside an institution. In practice, such external appointments are called “interim” as opposed to “acting,” the term traditionally used when a position is filled on a short-term basis by an internal appointee.


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The currents of change throughout higher education are leading boards to make more short-term leadership appointments from outside the institution, known typically as “interim” appointments to distinguish them from “acting” appointments filled by internal personnel. Among the main reasons that boards turn to outside candidates are that such people can provide a fresh look at a situation through an experienced eye and are beholden to no faction at the institution. Several steps are important in arranging interim appointments, including setting clear goals to be achieved by the appointee and reaching a shared understanding of the extent of the interim’s authority.

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Is this trend positive for institutions? Interim appointments of senior leaders have their detractors. Some regard the appointments as decisions of convenience, reflecting stop-gap management. They think of temporary incumbents as figureheads or mere caretakers at times when leadership for change is required. They know that interims sometimes lack the authority needed to lead or that they are too powerful for the limited scrutiny they undergo when they are (sometimes hurriedly) brought in. Skeptics are especially uneasy with most external appointees’ relative lack of local knowledge. To other observers, however, boards or other authorities who hire an interim administrator are exercising an important option. They maintain that, in many circumstances, the appointment of an interim can be highly strategic and can advance an institution in ways a permanent appointment might not. At a minimum, boards and executive leadership should be alert to and informed about this alternative form of executivelevel appointment. And they will want to know when and how it could make compelling sense for their institutions and

what key issues to consider if this option is embraced. The following discussion briefly summarizes current data and thinking about the use of interims, based largely on the responses to a brief, confidential, online survey of presidents, chancellors, chief academic officers, chief financial officers, other top executive administrators, board professionals, and deans conducted by AGB Search in September 2013. The 2,579 responses give a helpfully current view of a broad national sample of institutions and the experiences and views of their leaders regarding top-level interim appointments.

Interim Appointments Today The results of the AGB Search survey suggest that tenures are increasingly short among those holding executive-level positions. Sixty percent of respondents reported more turnover in the leadership of their institutions in the last five years than in the previous five years. The wave of leadership transitions predicted for many years has begun. Institutions have responded to the challenges of senior-level turnover, in part, by turning to interim appointments. Fully two in three respondents reported hiring one or more interim leaders, or a combination of interim and acting leaders, during the last five years. More specifically, 47 percent of respondents reported increased hiring of interims, and only 9 percent reported a declining number of such hires. Approximately 6 percent of presidents, chief academic officers, chief financial officers, and deans currently serve as temporary appointees in their positions. Just under 4 percent are “acting” (internal) appointees. The rest—just over 2 percent—constitute the relatively small but growing number of “interim” (external) appointees. The expected length of the acting or interim appointment averages 15 months, although the range reported was from four months to three years. Interims tend to have had prior experience in relevant settings and roles. For example, 53 percent had served previously in the same or a very similar position

elsewhere. And 56 percent had experience at a similar type of institution. About 70 percent of all respondents reported that their institution’s overall experience with interims had been positive. Even though most respondents reported increased hiring of interims in recent years, a majority (53 percent) thought that colleges and universities should consider interim appointments even more frequently.

Why? Reasons for Interim Appointments The figures above suggest the general dimensions of interim service today and help document its growth. AGB Search’s survey sheds light, as well, on the reasons institutions have embraced the idea. Of special interest is a group deeply informed about the context of current interim appointments—those respondents who are themselves serving as interims. Asked to choose as many reasons as applied to their appointments from a longer list of options, these presidents, chief academic officers, chief financial officers, and deans selected the following (in order of frequency): • A need for time to conduct a proper search (67 percent); • An abrupt departure (59 percent); • A need for someone to step in and manage (55 percent); • A calming, steady hand at the helm (45 percent); • A need to decide what would be needed in a permanent person (43 percent); • A leadership or management crisis (43 percent); • A widespread loss of confidence in previous leadership (36 percent); • A need for someone with an outside perspective (33 percent); and • A need for someone with particular skills to solve immediate problems (33 percent). Open-ended responses from this group of respondents called attention to additional (again, possibly overlapping or related) reasons for their interim appointments—a need to reopen a failed search, a need (often after a long incumbency) to take stock and decide new strategic direc-

tions before initiating a search, or a need to reframe a unit or position and develop a more appropriate job description. As a group, serving interims reported more factors at play—and such factors more at play—in these situations than did other respondents. Indeed, although some may see the appointment of an interim as a simple stop-gap measure, a resounding 86 percent of serving interims characterized the decision to hire an outsider for the position they serve in as “strategic.”

Some Guidelines for When and How How, then, should a strategically minded board or senior leadership of a campus approach the possible use of interims? Fortunately, some consensus exists on best practice in this area. While situations— and the best responses to particular situations—differ, board members and institutional leaders should bear in mind the following guidelines: When an opening occurs, consider a short-term appointment (acting or interim), if only to rule it out. Short-term appointments are often helpful. A great many permanent appointees would fare better if an effective interim period had preceded their assumption of the reins. That said, interim appointments can be overused (usually leading to drift and confusion) or misused (for example, as a backdoor for permanent appointments). In most cases of administrative vacancies, circumstances do allow for a brief acting appointment or continued service by the incumbent until a full search is completed. If circumstances favor a short-term appointment, choose carefully between the acting and interim options. In brief, acting (internal, short-term) appointments are thought often to have the following advantages: • Ensuring a degree of trust in, and comfort with, the appointee; • Empowering someone with local knowledge; • Avoiding the need for a long learning curve; • Avoiding in some cases the expense of a brief search for the right interim; and • Providing promising individuals from

to what would be viewed as a successful within the institution on-the-job trainterm of employment.” A limited set of ing, possibly as part of a succession or goals is best, reflecting clear priorities talent-development plan. and a realistic assessment of what can be By contrast, an appointment from accomplished in the timeframe provided. outside the institution may be favored to And as the interim makes his or her own the extent that those filling the post put a assessments of what needs to be done, premium on a candidate who: some adjustments will need to be made. • Can tackle the job full-time versus Look for candidates who can do the (as is often the practice with acting tasks. “The skill level to be an effective appointments) juggling it alongside leader in higher education has become other duties that cannot realistically be increasingly complex,” observed one handed off; respondent. Given that truth, a careful • Has accumulated no ”baggage” at enumeration of the abilities, experience, the institution and, in particular, is and skills required in order to meet the untouched by controversies surroundgoals for the appointment should guide ing past leadership; the search and the consideration of all • Has few, if any, friends or foes at the candidates. Of special importance for institution, and is beholden to no most interims are the abilities to learn faction there and can thus be seen as and assess things quickly, to win confiimpartial; dence, and to build the rela• Can provide a fresh look tionships necessary to get at things, but through an The skill things done expeditiously. experienced eye; level to be Beyond that, the particu• Possesses skills that are needed but are in short an effective lar priorities assigned the interim should weigh heavily supply on campus; and/or leader in in naming the interim. For • Must make difficult higher example, an interim presichanges that someone education dent asked to bring a capital who would stay on campus might not survive. has become campaign to its conclusion If the choice is made increasingly will need the skills of a fundraiser. One who is a busito find an interim, move complex. ness strategist may be best with all deliberate speed. A at addressing the problems search for an interim should of a business model under be expeditious. “It puts a pressure. And it may take a diplomat to stress on an organization to be without a mediate disagreements among warring defined leader, whether regular, interim, campus factions. or acting,” wrote one survey responFocus the search effectively. Most dent, and this “manifests itself through institutions will consider the use of a decreased efficiency, lack of continuity, search firm when approaching the task of and confusion.” That said, allowing time selecting a permanent executive. A small to identify and vet several candidates will number of firms provide services specifiusually pay dividends. A rushed search cally geared toward interim searches. serves no one well because it can produce They have pools of pre-vetted candidates, imperfect fits and undermine confidence and some have the capacity to quickly in this and other appointees. identify others. Institutions that decide Decide on the tasks the interim not to seek outside help often look within appointee is to accomplish. Interims a university system (in the case of a pubcan serve a variety of purposes, as dislic college or university) or a sponsoring cussed above, but the particular job to denomination. Current vice presidents or be done at the particular place and time should be carefully thought through and retiring presidents or vice presidents of similar institutions may be of interest, as agreed upon. As one respondent put it, might senior officials at higher education “The highest priority for an interim and associations, many of whom may have a school is to have a ‘shared vision’ as J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


needs to have the right, within his or her held campus positions before. area of responsibility, to ask questions, Reach agreement on appropriate explore options, make decisions, initiate terms of employment. “It is my experiactions, and lead. In all respects he or ence that a portion of these appointshe needs to be—and to be seen as— ments are made for budgetary reasons,” the person in charge, not someone who wrote one respondent, which can result can be avoided, bypassed in “greater financial and with end-runs, or simply human cost in the long run.” Given the outlasted. The granting In most cases, an interim increasing of authority should be appointment should not be turnover visible to all. Numerous treated as an opportunity to respondents to the survey save money. To help ensure of top mentioned sympathetically comparable quality, interleadership the confusion and loss of ims’ compensation—their in higher confidence in leadership salaries, benefits, and pereducation, that interim appointments quisites—should generally can cause among faculty be comparable to those of we can A clear handoff their peers with regular expect more members. will help prevent this. contracts. All arrangements short-term Another dimension should also be spelled out appointments of an effective launch clearly in writing. They should include a term of in the future. should be an effort to introduce the interim to appointment long enough new colleagues, to campus to get the job done—and no resources, and to significant issues that longer. It is wise, however, to anticipate will affect his or her work. A well-planned that circumstances may arise in which an extension might be warranted—for exam- orientation can greatly reduce the time ple when, in the search for the permanent successor, it might be important to accommodate different possible starting dates. Decide whether the interim may, if interested, be a candidate for the permanent position. Most interim appointments expressly rule this out for two basic reasons. First, incumbency and candidacy can pull an interim in opposite directions, possibly tempting him or her to avoid hard decisions or to make them based on self-serving criteria. Even the perception that this is happening should be avoided. Second, the presence of an apparently strong internal candidate can deter other good candidates from entering the pool. Even given these considerations, however, some observers strenuously maintain that it is in the the interim institution’s interest not to tie its hands, appointee especially if the prospective interim needs to get up appointee might, with a strong perforto speed—a central mance, turn out to be just what the instifactor in the interim’s tution needs for the longer term. effectiveness. Give authority to the appoinHave a shared understandtee and launch the appointing with the appointee on where ment effectively. To be the limits lie. Interims need to undereffective, an interim

stand not just what’s expected of them, but also what is not. For example, will board members or others who are responsible for making the interim appointment welcome absolute candor in the interim’s assessment of the situation he or she steps into? Probably yes. A transformational leadership style? In some cases. A role in identifying, vetting, and selecting a permanent successor? That may be a step too far. Will an interim be looked to for trenchant analysis of long-term needs? Many are, and it’s often a good use of their skills and experience. Will he or she be authorized to make decisions and take actions that have significant long-term ramifications? That depends. In some cases (for example, where there’s housecleaning to be done) that will be the raison d’etre of the interim appointment. In others, such decisions and actions would be better reserved for a permanent successor. The frequent subtlety and importance of the distinctions among such campus situations argues not so much for a onetime, rigid set of instructions to interim appointees as it does for arranging for continuing consultation between the interims and the boards or other entities making the interim appointments. Easy, ongoing access to those who hire them enables interims to find and stay on the paths likeliest to lead them and their institutions to success. Given the increasing turnover of top leadership in higher education, we can expect more short-term appointments in the future. The responses to the AGB Search survey underscore the likelihood of growing numbers of interim, or external, appointments in particular. The guidelines outlined here should enable board members to consider and make these appointments with confidence. ■ AUTHOR: Joseph S. Johnston Jr. is senior consultant for administration at AGB Search and coordinates AGB Interim Search. E-MAIL: T’SHIP LINKS: Rita Bornstein, “Succession Planning: The Time Has Come.” September/ October 2010. OTHER RESOURCE: E.K. Fretwell Jr., The Interim Presidency: Guidelines for University and College Governing Boards (AGB, 1995).

Liberal vs.Professional Education Education:


The False Choice



off between a “liberal education” (or the study of the “liberal arts”) on the one hand and “professional training” on the other. Increasingly, the view that an unbridgeable chasm exists between the two has made the lack of support for liberal-arts disciplines—including, for example, philosophy, communication studies, and anthropology, to name just a few—a front-burner issue for many universities and the boards that oversee them.



2 3

A false choice is emerging both on campuses and off between a “liberal education” on the one hand and “professional training” on the other. There is confusion about what the liberal arts are or what a liberal education means, and some policy makers see liberal education as unrelated to the workplace, and, therefore, undeserving of public funding. A key fiduciary responsibility of college and university boards is not only to financially support liberal education at their institutions, but also to oversee the success of liberal learning and its integration with students’ majors.

J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


This false choice between liberal learning and professional studies can be seen on campuses in students’ oft-stated desire to get their general education courses out of the way so they can pursue a major. The same dichotomy can be seen in parents’ dismay over their child’s decision to major in English, anthropology, or history instead of pursuing a more “practical” degree. Off campuses, this false choice undergirds the statements of governors across the nation calling for reduced funding for the humanities and social sciences in favor of support for more practical studies in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM fields), or professional areas. For example, in 2011, Governor Rick Perry (R) of Texas challenged his state’s universities to develop a $10,000 fouryear bachelor’s degree. One of his solutions to the high cost of a college degree was to prioritize state funding for teaching over research and to fund studies in STEM fields over philosophy, history, and other humanities disciplines or socialscience programs like political science and sociology. That same year, Governor Rick Scott (R) of Florida adopted Perry’s “solutions” when he called for Florida legislators to shift state appropriations and offer $10,000 degrees to students with STEM and other “job-friendly” degrees while charging higher tuition for degrees in the humanities and social sciences. Similarly, North Carolina governor Patrick McCrory (R) announced in January 2013 that he would try to fund state universities based on “post-graduate employment” rather than enrollments. In a radio interview with former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, McCrory said that state support should “not be based on butts in seats but on how many of those butts can get jobs.” (Perhaps ironically, Bennett and McCrory both received their B.A. degrees from liberal-arts colleges—Williams College and Catawba College, respectively—that still require each student to take general studies in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.) What explains this growing movement to deemphasize and discredit liberal education? First, there is a lot of confusion among parents, students, the general public, and even board members about what the liberal 46


arts are or what a liberal education means. (See box on page 48.) Second, some policy makers see liberal education as unrelated to the workplace, and, therefore, undeserving of public funding in these days of tight state budgets. And, finally, many persons mistakenly assume that a liberal education teaches “politically correct” or “liberal” political or social views. Tragically, such attitudes display little understanding of what liberal education is and the centrality of liberal learning skills and perspectives in helping college graduates succeed in today’s global economy. And because of the misconceptions of what liberal education is and the widespread lack of knowledge of the benefits of a liberal education for students—regardless of majors or careers—boards of some public universities are being asked to reduce or eliminate funding of the very courses of study that give American students an edge over their global peers. Yet as Richard L. Morrill, president of the Teagle Foundation, says in Strategic Leadership in Academic Affairs: Clarifying the Board’s Responsibilities (AGB, 2002), a key fiduciary responsibility of college and university boards is not only to financially support liberal education at their institutions, but also to oversee the success of liberal learning and its integration with students’ majors. Thus, it is not just the funding but the quality of liberal education about which board members should have a vested interest and ultimate fiduciary oversight.

What Is “Liberal Education” and Why Is It Important? Liberal education is not a new concept. The idea of receiving a liberal education through the study of the liberal arts first emerged in classical times and focused on grammar, logic, and rhetoric (later called the Trivium). In Roman times, every free (liber) citizen was expected to study these three core liberal arts in order to participate in civic affairs such as legal proceedings, public debates, and even service in the military. Nearly all of the colleges and universities founded in the 18th and 19th centuries in America adopted an expanded classical liberal-arts curriculum. Today, those traditional liberal arts curricula have blossomed into dozens of

disciplines, including not only English, history, philosophy, and political science, but also economics, biology, chemistry, and physics—and many more. Liberal education (often also known as “general education,” or the part of a liberal education curriculum that is shared by all students, regardless of major) is required on most college and university campuses. It seeks to provide a broad array of intellectual and practical abilities that enable all students: • To practice analytical thinking and communicate well in written and oral modes; • To frame issues in historical and multicultural contexts; • To work independently and in team settings; • To assume both vocational and civic roles and responsibilities; and • To apply their knowledge and skills in complex problem-solving in an evermore complex and rapidly changing world. These abilities and skills are the very ones that employers seek today—that is, they are “practical” skills for virtually all professions. Of the business and industry leaders who responded to a survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), 93 percent said that a college graduate they hired should have a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems—all skills provided by a good liberal education. More than nine in 10 business and community leaders stressed the importance of college graduates demonstrating ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for continued new learning—again, core goals of a liberal education. AAC&U captures the practical importance of a liberal education when it says, “liberal education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change….[It] helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in realworld settings.” Educators and employers alike agree that vocationally oriented “prac-

tical degrees” can quickly become obsolete in today’s rapidly changing environment, while the skills developed through an education in the liberal arts are enduring. In their 2007 report on “College Learning for the New Global Century,” AAC&U concludes, “Employers are urging more— and better—liberal education, not less.” Examples cited included the judgment of Edward B. Rust Jr., chairman and CEO of State Farm Insurance Companies, who noted that only 50 percent of high-school and college graduates pass State Farm’s employment exam that “requires them to demonstrate critical thinking skills and the ability to calculate and think logically.” He continued, “These skills, plus the ability to read for information, to communicate and write effectively, and to have an understanding of global integration, need to be demonstrated…. [skills] employees need if they are to be successful in navigating the workplace.” Likewise, Siemens Corporation CEO George C. Nolen said of his management team, “A solid foundation in the liberal arts and sciences is necessary for those who want to be corporate leaders.” What’s more, students with liberal-arts degrees go on to immediate employment or further study in their chosen fields at about the same rate as students graduating with professional degrees. For example, 98 percent of the 400 to 450 students who graduate each year from the University of Mount Union in Ohio where I serve as a board member are employed or are accepted into graduate studies within three months of their graduation. While about half of these students major in traditional liberal-arts disciplines and half in professional studies, all graduates take about 25 percent of their coursework in the liberal arts through general-studies courses. The post-graduation results at similar liberalarts institutions are comparable. And a recent report, “How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment,” found that liberal-arts majors who have an

undergraduate or advanced degree earn on average more money by their mid-50s than people who studied in pre-professional or professional areas. Again, simply put, to pose liberal learning and professional studies as opposites, conceptually and practically, creates a false choice.

The Changing Landscape of Liberal and Professional Studies Despite the fundamental value of liberal education, a number of factors have contributed to the increased focus on preprofessional and professional studies and less attention to liberal education at most colleges and universities in America. One factor is that a far greater portion than ever before—in fact, a majority—of the contemporary workforce will engage in some postsecondary education and, therefore, see it as essential for the employment. While at the turn of the 20th century only 5 percent of high-school graduates (nearly all men) received a “classical” bachelor’s degree, today over 70 percent of high-school graduates attend postsecondary institutions. Thus, today, 25 percent of America’s workforce has a bachelor’s degree, and 40 percent has earned at least an associate’s degree. Second, the increasing diversity of contemporary students also plays a role in the increased focus on pre-professional and professional studies. Now more women than men, and more students above the age of 25 than those of traditional college age, attend American colleges and universities. And within a few decades, more Hispanic, African-American, and other “minority” students will attend college than Caucasians. Should we be surprised that these “non-traditional” students—who come from an increasingly broad socioeconomic spectrum and who, in the past, would have worked after graduating from high school rather than attend college—often seek “practical” or professional education from the institutions they attend? And as state appropriations shrink, more students from across the total economic spectrum must pay more of their college education costs. In response, they want their bachelor’s degree to provide access to employment that will pay their college loans and provide a good living.

Yet another factor for administrators and board members to consider is that, over the past century, all disciplines, including those in the liberal arts, have increasingly become more specialized and professionalized. In a 2005 essay, AAC&U president Carol G. Schneider noted that some academics arts and sciences disciplines have become so “absorbed in their own scholarly questions” that they have drawn back from “overt concern with the broader aims of liberal education such as civic engagement, ethical reasoning, or integrative learning.” One result is that most academic departments, even at select liberal-arts colleges, are better organized to prepare their majors for advanced study in their discipline than to provide courses that provide a strong liberal education for all students. As a consequence, it has become more difficult for students to integrate the various content and perspectives across areas of study and to apply them to the complex contemporary problems that corporate leaders Rust and Nolen say their workplaces will require them to address.

Integrative Learning for Today’s Jobs and World The fact is that liberal education requires not only exposure to a broad range of liberal-arts courses, but also the development of students’ ability to integrate those varied perspectives to solve real-world problems. The time has come for college and university leaders, including board members, to ask if their campus’ liberal or general education, along with disciplinary depth, provides their students with a multidisciplinary and holistic problem-solving approach to the complex local and global challenges we all face. Many people within and outside the academy tend to link a liberal-arts education or liberal education with only the roughly 250 private liberal-arts colleges in America. However, liberal education, often under the rubric of “general education,” is also an essential curricular component of public universities large and small. Most two-year community colleges and four-year public universities provide liberal education through what are typically called general education courses. In addition, public flagship universities and J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4


land-grant institutions have missions that usually include undergraduate degrees in liberal-arts disciplines along with preprofessional and professional studies such as agriculture, business, education, architecture, and engineering. Public institutions like New College in Florida and Evergreen State University in Oregon have demonstrated how public dollars can be used to produce very marketable graduates with interdisciplinary and integrative curricula that are grounded in a commitment to liberal learning. And Arizona State University (ASU), the largest

Often-Confused Terms Liberal Education: An approach to college learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. This approach emphasizes broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g., science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth achievement in a specific field of interest. It helps students develop a sense of social responsibility; strong intellectual and practical skills that span all major fields of study, such as communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills; and the demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings. Liberal Arts: Specific disciplines (i.e., the humanities, sciences, and social sciences). Liberal-Arts Colleges: A particular type of institution—often small, often residential—that facilitates close interaction between faculty and students, and whose curriculum is grounded in the liberal-arts disciplines. General Education: That part of a liberal education curriculum that is shared by all students. It provides broad exposure to multiple disciplines and forms the basis for developing essential intellectual, civic, and practical capacities. General education can take many forms, and increasingly includes introductory, advanced, and integrative forms of learning. Source: Association of American Colleges and Universities, “What is a 21st Century Liberal Education? (



American public university, with 70,000 students, has eliminated numerous traditional academic departments while creating more than a dozen interdisciplinary divisions and schools to achieve more integrative learning and foster better problemsolving skills among their students. For example, ASU provides undergraduate majors in “sustainability” that require students to integrate humanistic studies like English or communications along with social-science studies in economics or political science with natural-science courses that focus on the environment. And majors must complete an internship that requires the student to engage with such a multidisciplinary notion of “sustainability.” Many other ASU undergraduate majors also combine scientific, economic, social, and humanistic approaches to complex problems such as poverty or poor public health and link them to the local Phoenix community whenever possible. This emphasis on “integrative learning” that addresses real and complex problems through significant interdisciplinary academic restructuring has led Michael M. Crow, the president of the university, to call ASU a “New American University,” a model that other institutions might emulate.

A New Day for Liberal Education All college graduates need liberal learning skills and abilities regardless of their background, college major, or professional interests. This is why the AAC&U’s “practical liberal arts” initiative calls for liberal learning that is “well-rounded and integrated learning in the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and professional studies that can be applied to contemporary problems.” What does this mean for boards? As Teagle’s Richard Morrill says, those that are charged to oversee their college or university’s academic quality must seek to provide their students with a liberal education that integrates increasingly specialized disciplinary perspectives for an increasingly complex world. Morrill says simply, “The place [for boards] to begin thinking strategically about the academic program is with general education”—also known by its other name, liberal education.

He offers a number of questions for boards to ask, such as: • What is the rationale for general education requirements, and do they constitute a coherent program of study? • What proportion of a student’s total program is committed to general education? • How does the institution assess the effectiveness of general education? Such oversight of general or liberal education by boards is greatly needed—especially when funding for such education is being questioned. While it is left to campus administrators and faculty members to develop the integrative liberal-education curricula and modes of assessment, it is board members who have the final fiduciary responsibility to see that such goals and programs are created and that such student learning is happening. Interestingly, the notion of a liberal education can be seen as a contemporary version of the Roman notion that free citizens should be expected to study the liberal arts in order to participate in civil life and the learned professions. On another level, as Richard Morrill has written: “Learning is a rich mosaic of human possibilities that crosses the lines between the practical and the sublime….It connects knowing and doing.” Is this not the conception of liberal learning we must adopt as a primary goal and commit to fund in the boardrooms and on the campuses of both our private and public colleges and universities? ■ AUTHOR: Larry Shinn recently retired as

president of Berea College in Kentucky. E-MAIL: T’SHIP LINKS: Jeffrey B. Trammell, “Liberal Arts: Creating and Re-creating America’s Future.” May/June 2012. Alecia DeCoudreaux, “Shielding Institutional Mission from Financial Vagaries.” September/October 2010. Rebecca S. Chopp, “Creating Communities for the 21st Century.” May/June 2013. Carol Geary Schneider, “Three Questions about Learning and Quality.” November/December 2012.


The Benefits of Good Board Governance BY WILLIAM E. TROUTT

he highlight of my work as I begin my 32nd year as a college president is collaborating with our board members, people I count as dear friends, who are fully invested in the success of Rhodes College, who ask great questions, and who keep our institution moving in the right direction. I look forward to board meetings (I just went over the 100 mark). It was not always that way. For my first 17 years as a college president, I served a board elected by a church. I was fortunate to partner with an extremely wise and committed chair. Everyone was very supportive of my leadership. It was not difficult to chart any course of action that the chair and I recommended. But few board members were really invested and engaged. Coming to serve with the Rhodes board of trustees in 1999 brought many opportunities, but also a number of challenges: the size of the board, how work was organized, where energies were focused, and what questions were asked. At that time, the Rhodes board included 45 voting members and 12 emeriti trustees who attended regularly. Three faculty and three students were non-voting members. I was always addressing a gallery. Board meetings were orderly and efficient, as all proceedings, including charges for 11 committees, were carefully prescribed in 26 pages of by-laws. The board members included many talented people who were very proud of their college, pleased to be serving on the board, and loyal to the administration. They were extremely attentive to a managerial version of trusteeship and the stewardship of tangible assets. Governance expert Richard Chait would classify our board then as a “Type I Board,” where every issue looks like a fiduciary issue and board members primarily ask for facts, figures, and financial reports, but don’t ask bigger questions. Initial change strategies included taking board members from Rhodes to Pomona College for a retreat with that institution’s trustee leadership, a subsequent extended retreat with faculty leadership, and a multi-year look at the key components of our vision for Rhodes College. During a vigorous board discussion about student access and the desire to have every student fully invested in Rhodes, the question was raised about the board: Was everyone

T The right questions give board members a chance to fully contribute their experience and insight, keeping them engaged, invested, and eager to contribute their intellectual capital.

fully invested and giving his or her best? This led to the appointment of an ad hoc committee on trustee governance, which was chaired by a distinguished board member possessed of a rare combination of wisdom, gravitas, and process skills. The year-long study of trustee governance proved to be a real game-changer. Committee work involved a detailed view of literature on trusteeship, a look at best practices—including site visits with trustee leaders—and, most importantly, a look at ourselves. The committee developed a list of 30 questions about the roles and responsibilities, processes and conduct, board composition, and term structure of boards and provided updates at each meeting. The ad hoc committee report and recommendations were unanimously adopted. The results included a new set of by-laws, a smaller board, a separate emeriti-trustee council, and the replacment of the executive committee with an agenda committee. Six years after the transformational work of the Rhodes board of trustees, the ad hoc committee recommendations, and the major leadership shift that occurred at the college, I remain guided by the following convictions: • Board size matters. Everyone needs to be around a table, not sitting in a gallery. Emeriti trustees are delighted to remain engaged. • The use of ad hoc committees, and the absence of an executive committee, can produce significant results. • The right generative questions provide enormous energy for board members and for college leadership. • The right questions give board members a chance to fully contribute their experience and insight, keeping them engaged, invested, and eager to contribute their intellectual capital. • Colleges grow in the direction of the questions boards ask. Focusing on good trustee governance is the great leadership leverage opportunity. For me, it has created the professional opportunity of a lifetime. William E. Troutt is president of Rhodes College ( J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4



Building Strong Working Relationships B Y R O B E R T F. C I O F F I

he University of Vermont’s convocation at the outset of the academic year, like similar ceremonies on campuses nationwide, features a good deal of advice delivered from the lectern to our incoming class. To cite just a few examples: Approach learning with an open mind and heart; don’t be afraid to recognize what you don’t know; build strong relationships. Board chairs, the people who are frequently doling out this counsel, would be wise to follow it themselves and bring some of that incoming-student spirit to their own, very different role in the life of the institution. I came into the chairmanship of the UVM board with about as much board experience as a person could have with one institution. When my tenure on the board ends in March 2014, I will have served two consecutive six-year terms, preceded by a two-year term as a student trustee during my undergraduate days. As my wife, also an alum of the university, has reminded me, I’ve been a UVM trustee for more than onequarter of my life. Throughout these years of board work, and in my own career in the investment industry, I have learned the absolute importance of building strong working relationships. No surprise there; I’ll not claim to have invented the wheel. But what is perhaps less intuitive is that these relationships don’t happen unless they are built through a careful structure. I talk weekly with University of Vermont President Tom Sullivan, as I did with his predecessors, interim President John Bramley and President Daniel Mark Fogel. Tom and I may talk three times a week on other matters and as the “crisis du jour” may arise, but we will still keep our weekly phone appointment to share news, concerns, and the horizon view. From the president to the chair to the entire board, we strive to maintain this pattern of frequent, open communication. As a board meeting approaches, the president calls each of the board members individually, discussing what’s on the agenda and on their minds. And I will often make a round of pre-meeting calls myself. It is time well invested, making for a more informed

T Our colleges and universities, at their essence, are about effective connections— to our students, to our communities and states, to the pressing issues of our society.



board and more efficient, productive board meetings. We simply couldn’t do our work without phone calls and e-mails, but there is still no substitute for face-to-face interaction in building relationships, especially if we can find ways to take that out of the formal setting of a public meeting. During my chairmanship at the university, we’ve introduced regular trustee-only dinners on the evening preceding a round of meetings; these dinners include our president, who is a member of the board. In this social setting, our board members have come to better know and understand one another, build friendships, and—dare I say it?—find humor in the midst of our serious business. At a recent dinner during the World Series, our Illinois-born president confessed to our Red Sox-centric board that he is a confirmed St. Louis Cardinals fan. It was a fact I felt compelled to share in my opening remarks at the next day’s full board meeting. With a diverse governing board such as ours, which blends board members appointed by our legislature and governor, and a private, selfperpetuating membership, finding common ground through familiarity is key. While this sense of trust built on understanding is important in ordinary circumstances, it becomes essential during times of crisis. A presidential transition was the greatest challenge of my chairmanship, as most board chairs would understand. Leading an open, transparent, and very successful presidential search was the leadership work of which I’m the most proud. This simply would not have been possible without the support of our full board, support that was underpinned by years of strong relationships. Our colleges and universities, at their essence, are about effective connections—to our students, to our communities and states, to the pressing issues of our society. As board members, stewards of these myriad connections, one of the best places to begin our work is by making sure that we are connected among ourselves, hearing one another loud and clear. Robert F. Cioffi is the chair of the University of Vermont

board of trustees (

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AGB WELCOMES NEW MEMBERS Blackfeet Community College California State University Los Angeles Foundation College of Micronesia-FSM Colorado Mountain College Concordia University Wisconsin Concordia University Wisconsin Foundation Foundation of California State University Monterey Bay Gardner-Webb University Henry Ford Community College Foundation Langara College Marian University

AGB RELEASES STATEMENT ON SEXUAL MISCONDUCT he issue of sexual assault has received much high-profile attenAGB Advisory Statement on Sexual Misconduct tion recently. In response, AGB released the “AGB Advisory Statement on Sexual Misconduct” in the fall. The purpose of this advisory statement is to provide governing boards with guidance regarding their fiduciary duty and overall responsibility to collaborate with institutional leadership to address issues related to sexual misconduct. In late January, the Obama administration created the White House Task Force on Protecting Students from Sexual Assault, committed to developing a coordinated federal response to address the problem of campus rape and sexual assault. AGB will continue to monitor this important issue. Copies of the statement are available for download at


AGB HAS A BLOG hrough regular posts, the AGB blog will allow you to explore information on policies and issues important to your institution, hear from thought leaders from the world of higher education and board governance, and engage with our AGB team and other AGB members.


This blog is for you, and we welcome your feedback to learn how we can make it as valuable a resource as possible. Together, we have the opportunity to broaden the national dialogue on board and institutional governance. Join us online at blog.

Marshall University Michigan State University College of Law Pacific Northwest College of Art Saint Anselm College University of California Davis Foundation VCU School of Engineering Foundation

CALENDAR OF EVENTS Webinar: The Board’s Role in Fundraising February 27, 2014 2:00–3:00 pm (ET) Workshop for Board Professionals April 10–12, 2014 Orlando, FL National Conference on Trusteeship April 12–14, 2014 Orlando, FL

The Presidential Initiative June 2–3, 2014 Washington, DC Institute for Board Chairs and Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities June 10–12, 2014 Aspen, CO Public Leadership Institute for Single Campus Universities and Colleges June 23–24, 2014 Washington, DC J A N UA RY/ F E B R UA RY 2 0 1 4



Patricia P. Jackson

What Should Board Members TK Know about Fundraising? Fundraising is one of a board’s most basic and important responsibilities, and it is key to an institution’s financial stability. Patricia P. Jackson, executive director of college and foundation partnerships for the Fullbridge Program, former associate vice president for development at Dartmouth College, former vice president for development at Smith College, and author of AGB’s new publication, The Board’s Role in Fundraising, talks about what board members must know and do in order to be effective fundraisers for their college or university.

As educational institutions, we have an opportunity to develop programs to teach constituents to be effective and confident philanthropists.


What are some of the trends you’ve seen in fundraising over the years?

I can immediately cite five trends: • Continuing, steading, or growing giving is less common. In particular, as entrepreneurs emerge as major donors we discover those who make one or two large gifts early in their relationship with an institution, and then move on to support other causes they care about. We must accommodate that type of generosity and recognize that continued giving out of obligation is no longer a given for many people. • Women matter! The data are clear that women in households make most philanthropic decisions; single women give more than single men; and, women live longer and so have more time to give. (See the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at www.philanthropy. • Donor education matters. For the last decade, we have articulated more clearly the impact of donors’ gifts on our institutions. Yet by focusing so much on the “why” of making gifts, we may have forgotten that donors also need to know “how” to give. As educational institutions, we have an opportunity to develop programs to teach constituents to be effective and confident philanthropists. Board members can be particularly useful in suggesting topics they believe could be of value to their peers. • Authentic staff and volunteer partnerships lead to success. Higher education institutions


have always relied on volunteers, especially board members, to assist with fundraising. In the last 50 years, educational fundraising has emerged as a profession, and development staffs have grown rapidly, resulting in less strategic reliance on volunteers. Now, the pendulum appears to be swinging back to the middle, where staff and volunteers work together to increase philanthropic support for our institutions. That is a good thing! • High tech and high touch are both essential. Technology will assuredly continue to affect the ways we identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward donors. Furthermore, donors’ expectations about our abilities to meet their philanthropic needs in efficient and effective ways are bound to increase. Yet we must remember that people still give to people as we seek to raise money for our institutions. Many board members are not comfortable asking for money. What advice do you have for them?

Remember, you are asking for support of the institution, not for yourself. Part of the job of serving on the board is assisting the institution to reach important goals through your own giving and the giving of others. Furthermore, people expect you—especially as a board member—to be an effective steward of institutional resources, which includes increasing those resources. Finally, you should find a trustee or staff colleague with whom you can share your discomfort, and then practice overcoming it. In the end, many once-reluctant board members have found that fundraising is a personally satisfying and joyful experience. Why is it so important that the whole board participate in fundraising?

The board has fiduciary responsibility for the institution, and philanthropy is a vital revenue stream that most institutions need to carry out board-approved priorities. What’s more, before some potential donors will make a gift, they will ask if each board member has also made a gift as a way to determine the board’s own commitment to and belief in the institution’s missions and goals. Thus, the board as a whole should take responsibility for fundraising.

PLENARY SPEAKERS Opening plenary with Austan Goolsbee Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of the Council of the Economic Advisors and the youngest member of President Obama’s cabinet, will discuss the economy and its impact on institutions of higher education.

Austan Goolsbee

Juliet Garcia

Daniel Pink

Litigation, Separation, and Transformation: Lessons Learned over 25 years of Governance Juliet V. Garcia will share the lessons she’s learned as a president working with governing boards for the past quarter century. Discussion will center on the impact boards have beyond institutional policy as they play a pivotal role in the transformation of a region. Leadership and the New Principles of Influence Leaders at every level confront two stark realities. First, in these fiercely competitive and endlessly turbulent times, they must do more with less. Second, old-school management techniques frequently fail. Drawing on social science and cutting-edge practices from organizations around the world, Daniel Pink will discuss the new ways leaders are persuading, influencing, and motivating others. Leading Innovation: Lessons from Successful Presidents Innovation is critical in today’s dynamic environment. Innovative institutions have, by default, innovative leaders at the top and dynamic boards. Join us to hear from four innovative presidents and uncover the secrets to their success including how they engage their boards in spurring and supporting innovation on campus. Speakers include Freeman A. Hrabowski III (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), Leo Lambert (Elon University), Paul J. LeBlanc (Southern New Hampshire University), and Mary Evans Sias (Kentucky State University).





8:30—11:30 AM

This annual workshop is open to all board professionals in higher education—those individuals who serve boards in roles such as assistant to the president, general counsel, secretary of the college, assistant secretary of the board, vice president, and chief of staff. The workshop offers a variety of sessions aimed at improving board effectiveness and adding value to the role of board professionals—both professionally and personally, and at various career stages.

• • • • • •

Working with Your Legal Counsel Workshop for New Board Members U.S. Higher Education and Governance Overview Assessing Presidential Effectiveness Changing the Business Model Building a Better Board: Addressing Your Sticky Governance Issues

12:30—3:30 PM


• Risk Management* • Overseeing Educational Quality* • Presidents Working Groups on Governance (complimentary to presidents)

8:30—11:30 AM

• Presidential Search and Transition: Finding the Right Talent* • Successful Fundraising: What Trustees and Presidents Need to Know

• Finance 101: Financial Literacy for Board Members • Strengthening the Board through the Governance Committee *Enhanced workshop rate applies. Includes materials.

12:45—3:45 PM

• Leadership Strategies for Board Chairs of Independent Institutions • Leadership Strategies for Board Chairs of Public Institutions • Effective Finances and the Finance Committee: Advancing the Institution • Shared Governance* AGB 2014 National Conference on Trusteeship • Conference Preview


CONFERENCE SESSIONS Other spotlight topics at concurrent sessions and idea exchanges at the 2014 National Conference on Trusteeship include: • Technology

• • • • • • • •

Cost, Completion, and Accountability Health Care in Higher Education Institutional Aid The Changing Enterprise of Teaching and Learning Preparing Graduates for the 21st Century Bold Institutional Change Student Safety Closing the Equity Gap

NEW REGISTRATION PROCESS! AGB is pleased to introduce a new online registration platform. Register for the conference and book your hotel room at the same time. Visit for more information and to register. ACCOMMODATIONS Hyatt Regency Orlando/The Peabody Orlando As of October 2013, the Peabody Orlando is now the Hyatt Regency Orlando. To receive the conference rate, please confirm your hotel reservation through the conference registration process. The Hyatt Regency Orlando will not book rooms directly.

REFUND POLICY All cancellations and requests for refunds must be submitted in writing. AGB will issue a full refund if written notification is postmarked by February 21, 2014. After that date, AGB is unable to issue any refunds. If you are unable to attend, a substitute is welcome in your place at no additional charge. AGB is not responsible for any cancellation or change charges assessed by airlines, travel agents, hotels, or other businesses in conjunction with attendee travel. Please refer all registration questions to the registrar at (202) 776-0840 or


Early-bird Rates Registration through February 7, 2014 • Individual Member: $845 • Group Member: $795 (3 or more individuals) • Nonmember: $1,095

Regular Rates Registration after February 7, 2014 • Individual Member: $895 • Group Member: $845 (3 or more individuals) • Nonmember: $1,145

Preconference Workshops • Workshop for Board Professionals: $400 • Standard Workshops: $245 • Enhanced Workshops: $285 (includes materials)

AGB 2014 National Conference on Trusteeship • Conference Preview

*As of January 22, 2014


Board members need to understand who the faculty are, what they do, how they are organized, and when they should be involved in institutional leadership and governance. Special topics include: shared governance, academic freedom, tenure, faculty governing bodies, and unions. $20 Members; $25 Nonmembers

The Board’s Role in Fundraising BY PATRICIA P. JACKSON

Written specifically for members of higher education boards, presidents, and development leaders, this book responds to the growing need by board members for quick and valuable guidance in fundraising endeavors. It aims to inspire as well as inform with a concise, engaging, and accessible format. $25 Members; $30 Nonmembers With special thanks to

ORDER TODAY! Visit us online at or by calling 800.356.6317. ORDER FOR YOUR BOARD AND SAVE! 10% OFF ORDERS OF 20 OR MORE.

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is a membership service for board members and officers of education institutions who are members of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges



The most important relationship for successful governance at independent institutions is that between the board chair and the president. Since 1985, more than 350 teams have attended AGB’s Institute for Board Chairs and Presidents to help cultivate that relationship by developing a stronger chair-presidents partnership and creating a focused agenda that moves the institution forward.

JUNE 23-24, 2014 | WASHINGTON, D.C.

Public universities and colleges need effective working relationships between board leaders and presidents to create and sustain institutional effectiveness. Join AGB with your team to focus on the major governance challenges facing public higher education and how you can best prepare your institution and board to meet them. JOIN US IN D.C.! OPEN ONLY TO TEAMS COMPRISED OF CHIEF EXECUTIVES AND UP TO THREE BOARD LEADERS INCLUDING CHAIRS, VICE CHAIRS, AND OTHER LEADERS FROM PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS.




Trusteeship: January/February 2014  

Trusteeship is a membership service of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.