One of the most important challenges for American higher education today is increasing the number of students who enroll in and complete their postsecondary education with a high-quality degree or credential. Report after report demonstrates the public benefits of having a well-educated population, from improved economic stability to enhanced research and development to stronger national security. Individual benefits include greater opportunity and financial security, even better health. At the institutional and system levels, and with backing from governors, legislatures, and the president, work is underway to address the need for more college graduates and adults with credentials, but much remains to be done if we are to reach critical goals for completion.
Accomplishing the core institutional* mission—educating and graduating students—requires board leadership, advocacy, and accountability. AGB’s 2007 “Statement on Board Accountability” reminds board members that they are accountable to institutional mission, the public interest, and the “legitimate and relevant interests of the institution’s various constituencies.” Each points to student completion as a core board responsibility.
With generous support from Lumina Foundation, AGB has initiated a project to enhance boards’ ability to help improve college-completion rates. AGB’s work in this area includes a national survey and report on board members’ assessments of their knowledge and engagement in college-completion efforts at their institutions. In addition, AGB has led a number of statewide programs, for both public and independent institution board members, focused on board responsibility for the oversight of college completion.
This is not an easy issue. A host of complex problems contributes to low completion rates: poor student preparation for college-level classes, work and family concerns that can derail student progress, and higher education’s own structures and processes that are too often geared to yesterday’s college students instead of today’s. Boards need to be fully engaged in completion efforts to ensure that all students have the support they need to complete degrees or certificates in a timely fashion. AGB’s survey shows that the majority of all boards say that completion is among their priorities. However, they also say they do not spend enough time on the topic to make a real difference.
Students, their families, policymakers, accreditors, business leaders, and the general public are pressing for change because improvements in college-completion rates benefit all. This AGB board statement offers guidelines and practical suggestions for presidents, chancellors, and board members in using governance as a powerful tool to increase the rate of college completion at their institutions.
*In all cases, “institutional” or “institution” may also refer to system governance or system boards.