Blame trustees - not tenure or administrators - for financial challenges, expert argues

Former college administrator thinks boards have dropped the ball

Don't blame professors or provosts for higher ed institutions' struggles, one former administrator writes in the Washington Post—blame the trustees.

According to John Griffith, a vice president at investment firm Hirtle Callaghan and the former chief financial officer and treasurer of Bryn Mawr College, many colleges and universities are failing to address obvious, looming challenges that could force them to shutter.

"The current operating model for many small colleges is unsustainable," Griffith writes. "Small colleges are in crisis. The need for reform is clear, but the industry is making little progress."

Nearly 20% of CFOs think their schools could close in the foreseeable future

"The fundamental problem is governance," he concludes.

According to Griffith, too many boards are over-crowded and composed of "alumni and insiders" who may be good at philanthropy but lack higher education expertise.

Boards also tend to focus their time on fundraising or operational oversight, which leaves them with little time to address strategic issues, he contends.

Griffith's proposed solution: Slim down the board, stock it with industry experts, and work closely with school leaders to devise a new budget model.

"It might be painful at first—change is hard," he writes. But "I am certain the constituency of dozens of schools that have closed wish that their boards had made those hard decisions sooner" (Griffith, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 7/21).

Looking to change? How to build a better budget model.

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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