07/25/2013 10:01 am ET Updated Sep 24, 2013

A New Academic Year and a National Commission

Having finished one academic year and on the verge another, we reflect on how boards and presidents have addressed the challenges that institutions continue to face: business model issues, the fiscal environment, enrollment, cost, price, and student debt, among others.

Of late, we have seen a gap between some boards and presidents concerning online education -- for instance, on the topic of MOOCs (massive open online courses). Clearly, how we deliver the academic degree is impacted by technology, and not all boards and presidents see the issues and impacts through the same prism. Some boards may be looking for more radical change, while some presidents may be more reflective, recognizing the need to include the faculty in discussion of the role of technology in teaching.

What all of this suggests is that we must begin asking the question of whether boards are adequately prepared to address dynamic, 21st century challenges and whether and how we need to rethink the way boards are structured and the manner in which they do their work.

In this vein, AGB is launching a commission on board and institutional governance that will, over the next 12 months, take a candid look at how we do governance and make sure that we can address the fiscal and academic challenges that lie ahead in this still-new century.

The National Commission on College and University Board Governance will be chaired by Philip N. Bredesen Jr., former governor of Tennessee, with education policy expert Jane Wellman serving as executive director. In addition, Commission membership includes men and women of diverse backgrounds and affiliations, including current and former university board members and college presidents, as well as business leaders, faculty, and national experts in finance, public policy, and higher education and corporate governance.

Throughout the next year, the Commission will examine how well prepared the governing bodies of higher education institutions and systems are to address the myriad challenges confronting our sector. The business of higher education is a major topic of our public policy debate -- how we price it, the needs and expectations of the students we serve, the programs we offer, and how those programs connect to our society and its economy. The Commission's agenda will look at how these factors are evolving and what that suggests for boards and governance.

The Commission is expected to meet four times and deliver an interim report before providing final recommendations in September 2014. More information can be found at