New report shows slow diversification of college boards

Board members who oversee U.S. colleges and universities are still predominantly white and male, although institutions have diversified their boards somewhat in recent years, according to a new report from the Association of Boards of Directors. administration of universities and colleges.

The new report, titled “Policies, Practices and Board Composition of Colleges, Universities, and Institution-Related Foundations,” draws on survey responses from more than 530 colleges, universities, systems and foundations. higher education on the composition and practices of their boards of directors. in 2020. The report’s authors caution that the data should be interpreted with caution due to the low response rate last year.

Men hold the majority of seats on the boards of directors of public and private institutions, as well as foundations that typically handle fundraising activities for public colleges. In 2020, women held 37% of public council seats and 36% of private council seats, an increase of 12% since 1969, when the AGB first surveyed institutions. Women hold 35 percent of the seats on foundation boards.

Board members from ethnic minority groups made up about a third of public council members and 17% of private council members in 2020, according to the report. After excluding establishments serving minorities from the sample, these percentages fell to 19.8% for public boards and 15.7% for private boards. In foundations, board members from racial or ethnic minorities made up about 12 percent of board members.

Efforts to diversify the composition of boards of directors differ from institutional initiatives to diversify students and employees. Public institutions in particular have little control over the members of their boards of directors, as members are often elected or appointed by the state governor.

Institutions that appoint their own boards seek to create a balance between gender, race, ethnicity, level of education, eldership, profession and philanthropic capacity, said Henry Stoever, president and CEO of AGB. Philanthropic capacity refers to the ability of an individual to donate money to the institution.

“If an institution has more financial needs than it can get from the state – if it’s a public institution, for example – or from tuition fees, it needs more openings through which it can generate cash flow, ”Stoever said. “This is where some institutions say, ‘We have significant financial needs that go beyond traditional tuition fees and public support. So they might prioritize philanthropic capacity more than others. “

Although boards have been slow to diversify, they have kept pace with the sexual, racial and ethnic makeup of college presidents, provosts and other higher education leaders, said Lesley McBain, research director at AGB.

“It’s important to consider the perspective that boards are part of a higher education ecosystem, which is embedded in American society,” McBain said. “Therefore, change is not always quick.”

Recruiting isn’t always easy, in part because of pipeline issues, McBain said. It takes time to identify and train board members to serve. Stoever also pointed out that recruiting board members differs from recruiting employees because members are not formally paid.

“When you hire someone to take a job, they will get paid. They have expectations of the job, ”said Stoever. “In contrast, citizen fiduciaries are not paid… they exist to oversee. “

Stoever and McBain agreed that a diverse board is a strength.

“Boards need to make holistic, well-informed strategic decisions,” Stoever said. “This group of board members may have a better likelihood of arriving at a diverse and knowledgeable outcome when they have a diversity of perspectives and experiences in this dialogue.”

The average size of boards of directors has been stable for a decade. In 2020, the average board of directors of a public institution consisted of a dozen voting members. The average board of directors of a private institution had 28 voting members and the average board of directors of a higher education foundation had 29 voting members.

A substantial majority of board members – 77 percent of public board members and 82 percent of private boards – were over 50 in 2020. About 15 percent of public board members and 21.6 percent of private council members were 70 or older, according to the report.

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the frequency and duration of meetings, according to the report. Public councils met on average 7.7 times in 2020, compared to 7.4 times in 2015. Private councils met 4.6 times in 2020 compared to 3.7 times in 2015, and foundation councils met. met 3.8 times in 2020 compared to approximately 3.5 times in 2015. Numerous meetings in 2020 took place online.

“It will be interesting to see how boards assess these pandemic-necessitated adaptations to regular meeting structures and practices and whether they make sense for the future,” McBain said. “Zoom fatigue can also play a role in these decisions. There is also the issue of open meeting laws and other laws or regulations that public councils in particular should consider. “

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