October 2010
Front Page Feature Facts & Figures News & Events Perspectives On the Road Postings Archive
About AACU
Press Room

How Boards Oversee Educational Quality

The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges conducted a survey in November 2009 of 1,300 of its member chief academic officers and chairs of board committees to get a sense of how governing boards understand assessment of student learning, their relationship to it, and what factors help or hinder their involvement in assessment of student learning.  Of the respondents to the survey, 77 percent were from independent (private) institutions, while 23 percent were from public institutions. The survey results point to the fact that while the majority of governing boards receive at least some information about student learning outcomes, most board members are unsure of how to interpret or use the information. The survey report includes a list of suggestions for board members—particularly, that they recognize that their fiduciary responsibility to their institution includes a responsibility to uphold educational quality. 


Receiving Information about Student Learning Outcomes

  • More than three-quarters of respondents (77 percent) reported that their institution has a statement of expected learning goals for undergraduate students.
  • Board members most commonly receive standardized test results about student learning outcomes (69 percent receive them). Forty-five percent receive discipline-based assessment results, while only 17 percent receive student portfolio results.
  • Fourteen percent of respondents said their board receives no information about student learning outcomes.
  • Half of respondents indicated that their board receives information about student learning at least once a year, while half indicated that they only receive such information when preparing for reaccreditation.
  • More than 60 percent of respondents have received data on graduation rates, time to degree, and GPA.

Understanding Student Learning Outcomes

  • Forty percent of respondents reported that their board does not understand their institution’s process for assessing student learning outcomes.
  • More than 20 percent of respondents said that understanding student learning outcomes is not part of a governing board’s role.
  • The largest percentage of respondents (64 percent) indicated that their boards are too busy dealing with other priorities or crises to work on understanding learning outcomes, while 44 percent indicated that there is not enough time at meetings to discuss learning outcomes.
  • The most common ways for board members to learn about student learning assessment is through committee work (73 percent) and reaccreditation preparation (50 percent).
  • More than three-quarters of respondents consider rankings data somewhat important (61 percent) or very important (16 percent) to their board’s monitoring of educational quality.
  • Less than 25 percent of respondents said that their board uses information about student learning outcomes to inform budget decisions.

The entire report may be downloaded as a PDF.



  • About half of board respondents (53 percent) indicated that their board spends more time discussing student learning outcomes now than it did five years ago.
  • Sixty-two percent of board respondents said that not enough time is spent discussing learning outcomes in board meetings.
  • Sixty percent of board members said that “much more” time is spent on finance and budget issues than academic issues.