Good governance in a digital world

By Dottie Schindlinger

Four steps community college boards can take toward modern governance.

Governance has struggled to keep pace with today’s public education landscape. The world we live in is switched on, digital and decentralized. Cyberattacks can originate from anywhere in the world. Social media amplifies the voice of every citizen and staff member. In a world where nanoseconds count, old governance practices aren’t just out of date; they’re exposing today’s community colleges to the kinds of risks that can lead to crises. And there’s no shortage of examples these days.

Cyber breaches. Poor leadership tone. Employee misbehavior gone viral. These are the things that governance shortfalls are made of. And the next question is always the same: Where was the board and administration team while all this was happening?

Simply put, good governance for community colleges is a strategic advantage in today’s complex, digital world. And the first step towards modernizing governance frameworks requires clear identification of the problem.

Through our interactions with community college boards, we’ve learned a few things: Good governance is dynamic — it can look a little different from one community college to the next. Yet, there are a few modern governance principles that hold constant.

  1. Re-examine the governance structure you’ve inherited. When you join a community college board, you’re inheriting a governance structure (i.e., an existing set of rules, roles and processes that govern the board and the broader community). New members must get up to speed quickly on necessary processes and protocol, but they can also offer a fresh perspective on how things could be done better. Community college board members should not be afraid to re-examine or challenge the current processes that are in place and ask, “Can we be doing this a better way?” Keeping a close eye on the effectiveness of your current governance structure will allow your board to more precisely pinpoint areas of improvement.
  2. Focus on board composition and development. Community college boards that support the principles of modern governance align board skills with long-term strategy; they see diversity of all kinds as an advantage, not a requirement. However, executing on these principles is where many public governing bodies fall short. Modern boards must work to identify gaps, understand the skills and perspectives required to answer the needs of students and the community, and recognize any potential conflicts of interest.
  3. Improve visibility around key risks and opportunities. For today’s communities, it’s not enough to simply identify key organizational risks — community college boards must then design the dashboards, reporting frameworks, and info-gathering networks that allow them to monitor these risks and identify red flags. A modern governance product solution ensures that boards remain aligned with their goals with strategic progress tracking, that they establish sound policy, and that they stay in compliance with open meeting laws and regulations.
  4. Avoid easy cyber mistakes. Community college board members are notoriously guilty of using text messaging or personal email to share sensitive information and materials. For public boards, discussing board business outside of scheduled meetings not only violates open meeting laws, but puts the college’s information at risk. Boards that practice modern governance do not make these mistakes; they centralize board and management collaboration using role-based authorizations, while also ensuring that the public has easy access to required information.

BoardDocs, a Diligent Brand, is a proud partner of the American Association of Community Colleges. Together, they strive to build a nation of learners by providing resources that drive efficiency and effectiveness for community colleges as they work to serve students and their communities. 

Dottie Schindlinger

is vice president of thought leadership for BoardDocs, a Diligent brand.