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Higher Education Governance

Our History & Expertise

Since NCHEMS’ inception in 1969, states, systems and institutions have sought our guidance on questions of structure and governance. While updates to the structure are sometimes warranted in higher education, NCHEMS guides stakeholders toward the consideration of multiple solutions for the challenges they face.

Since the structure is a means to an end rather than an end itself, NCHEMS considers structure and governance framed in the broader context of strategic policy leadership, finance policy, and accountability.

When questions of structure and governance come up, NCHEMS works with its partners to clarify underlying challenges and identify solutions that make the biggest positive impact for students and institutional staff while minimizing disruption. Substantial structural and governance changes are an option, but should be one of the last alternatives considered lest the all-but-inevitable jockeying that governance changes typically spur distract from maintaining a priority on the needs of students and the state.

Our Work today

In this arena, the importance of context is paramount. NCHEMS recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we draw upon our vast expertise with states across the United States to share promising practices based on solid research and deep knowledge of historical events and their impacts. NCHEMS provides objective advice, grounded in data analysis, research, and our commitment to gather and learn from stakeholder perspectives.

Our projects have yielded solutions touching on:

  • Comparisons of state and system higher education structures, functions, and leadership
  • Recommendations for structure and governance of community and technical college systems
  • Specifications of the roles and responsibilities of boards, and system and campus leaders
  • Development of state public postsecondary agendas, including long-term goals and implementation of policies in finance and accountability

NCHEMS always approaches governance-related engagements with a clear commitment to the principle that the needs of students and of the public must be the highest priorities. To unpack the challenges of our clients, including potential structural and governance challenges, NCHEMS begins with a review of pertinent data. Typically, these analyses develop a detailed picture of the student populations being served (and not served) by the state, system, or institution, as well as the nature of the challenges of access, success, affordability, relevance, and other characteristics of educational delivery that need attention.

This commitment to building a foundation of hard, data-rich evidence, together with careful attention to stakeholder perspective and with our national and historical vantage point, has proven a powerful approach that yields compelling and realistic recommendations to guide decision-making. We provide solutions that help to maximize student success in the public interest and ensure all students are being served by postsecondary education, especially those who have been historically underserved — racial and ethnic minorities, low-income students, adults, and rural students, among others.

And not only does NCHEMS provide this advice directly to clients through its work, but it also shares this knowledge with the field through publications and presentations. Examples of the ways in which NCHEMS’ work on structure and governance has informed the field include:

Although we are justifiably proud of the impact we have had in benefiting students and states, it is not uncommon for our work to remain relatively shrouded in the background. That is frequently by design, and not just false humility — truthfully, we believe that substantial changes, especially transformative ones, must be fully “owned” by the state, system, or institution. After all, the hard work really begins after recommendations are adopted and implementation commences, so it is crucial that the recommendations and resulting plan are not easily dismissed.

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We Aid in the Effort

We aid in that effort by going to lengths to ensure that recommendations are calibrated to the setting, by articulating a thoughtful plan for implementation with clear assignments, and by being available for questions as progress moves ahead. Sometimes our involvement has allowed systems and states to overcome challenges without resorting to large structural or governance changes. And when big changes were needed, NCHEMS’ recommendations have guided states like Kentucky, Louisiana, Utah, and Vermont to restructure to expand opportunities for adult learners and other postsecondary attendees. These expanded opportunities for students resulted in a better-educated and prepared workforce.

Higher Education Governance: Looking Ahead

The financial, demographic, and political conditions postsecondary education institutions face may never have been more volatile at any time in the professional careers of most current industry leaders. These increasingly complex pressures are likely to lead to demands for structural or governance change. At a minimum, these pressures will require institutional and system leaders and the boards to which they report to take bold and often controversial action with greater regularity.

When these issues arise, NCHEMS is ready to lend a hand in striving to find a reasonable path forward. Our track record as a credible, objective and external source of counsel is unmatched in navigating through the issues — and occasionally upheaval — that comes with proposed structural or governance changes.

Visit our Projects page to learn more about our extensive work and impact on governance.

Contact us today to schedule a conversation.

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