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Celebrating Innovative Boards: The 2017 John W. Nason Award for Board Leadership Recipients

Celebrating Innovative Boards: The 2017 John W. Nason Award for Board Leadership Recipients

AGB’s John W. Nason Award for Board Leadership, now in its third year, recognizes and honors boards who are exemplars of innovation, creativity, and exceptional leadership. The award is named after a higher education leader who served as a pioneer on behalf of the importance and centrality of effective good governance. In his honor, AGB selected five outstanding governing boards to receive the 2017 John W. Nason Award for Board Leadership, exclusively sponsored by TIAA. A summary of their winning entries follows.

In fall 2017, AGB’s call for nominations for the award drew 40 nominations describing impressive work led by boards of public and independent institutions, statewide systems, and institutionally related foundations. This year, AGB is pleased to honor five boards.

Agnes Scott College Board of Trustees
Faced with the dual challenges of increased public skepticism about the value of a liberal-arts education and the difficulties unique to women’sonly colleges, the board of Agnes Scott College launched a bold and innovative signature initiative— SUMMIT. This program reinvents a liberalarts education for the 21st century by providing every student with a robust focus on global learning and leadership development. In SUMMIT’s first two years, Agnes Scott enrolled its largest first-year class in history two years in a row, and retention hit an all-time high of 87 percent. Revenue from students also increased significantly and was up by $3.4 million over pre-SUMMIT levels.

Augsburg University Board of Regents
The 2012-13 academic year began with an unexpected enrollment shortfall at Augsburg University, resulting in budget and staffing cuts that exacerbated an alreadyadversarial relationship developing between the faculty senate and administration. Coupled with a sluggish capital campaign, the board of regents developed a strategic plan to reposition the institution. The board launched and directly led a shared governance taskforce to address head-on the tension on campus; a comprehensive five-year strategic planning effort; and a bold turnaround of Augsburg’s largestever capital campaign. The board’s exceptional leadership from 2012 to 2017 heralded achievement at the nexus of shared governance, integrated planning, and stewardship.

California State University System Board of Trustees
The California State University (CSU) system—with its 479,000 students and more than 3.4 million alumni—is uniquely positioned to produce a bachelor’s-educated workforce in the state of California. This need proved to be a key motivator for the system’s board of trustees and leadership in developing the Graduation Initiative 2025. The board, along with faculty and leadership, established ambitious and attainable goals to increase graduation rates and close achievement gaps by race and socioeconomic factors. More than one year into the initiative, data indicate that CSU is advancing towards its goals, with a record high number of students earning their baccalaureate degree in the 2016-17 academic year.

Ohio University Board of Trustees
In 2004, the board of trustees of Ohio University adopted the mission of being “the nation’s best transformative learning community.” Several issues confronted the board in the pursuit of realizing this mission, including decreased state support and deferred maintenance. In response, the board approved a financial model that would offer a “cost stabilization” feature. Called The OHIO Guarantee™, it fixes tuition, room and board, and fees at a set rate for four years. It embodies the sustained conviction of the board and creative thinking and perseverance of senior administrators. The board also created an innovative way to use a century bond to create a central bank to cover deferred maintenance.

Unity College Board of Trustees
In the early 2010s, Unity’s board of trustees faced the question of how to use the institution’s effective environmental curriculum and committed faculty, staff, and students as a springboard to mitigate internal limitations and overcome challenging externalities. In 2014, the board adopted “Building a Beacon: The Unity College Strategic Plan.” The plan called for an infrastructure build-out to diversify revenue and national visibility, as well as a comprehensive redesign of the first two years of college and a comprehensive strategic branding initiative. The board did the hard work of reimagining and positioning the institution for the future of the college, of its students, and of small, private higher education.

To assist board engagement on innovation, AGB has developed a dedicated site on Innovation in Higher Education, featuring the AGB Board of Directors' Statement on Innovation in Higher Education, case studies, podcasts, and practical resources for boards and presidents seeking to encourage innovation at their institutions.
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