Governance-Related Terms Every Community College Trustee Should Know

Board Buzzwords - Governance

Governance-Related Terms Every Community College Trustee Should Know


typically refers to the ways in which educational institutions and policies ensure that students have equal and equitable opportunities to take full advantage of their education. Access continues to be a goal for disenfranchised communities. Factors such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, past academic performance, incarceration,  English-language ability, etc. as well as cost should not be artificial barriers for diverse students in both rural and urban communities.  Making sure higher education is affordable to everyone is the goal of many organizations; international organizations such as Global Access to Postsecondary Education maintain their own definitions.


refers to assessment measures for institutions of higher learning regarding student learning outcomes, indicators of student success such as completion, graduation, pass rates for licensure or certification, and transfer rates, to name a few. The term also refers to meeting college mission strategic goals and priorities, providing evidence of progress, improvement and achievement.


is a process of validation in which colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning are evaluated. The standards for accreditation are set by a peer review board whose members include trained staff and faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Colleges that engage in systematic and continuous processes of gathering and evaluating student and college performance exemplify best practices around student and institutional assessments. In 2019, accrediting agencies published information about student learning outcomes. See “program accreditation” and “regional accreditation.”

Act as a unit

is the first of a list of board roles and responsibilities promoted by ACCT. Boards set policy, and it is inherent in the position that no single member can speak or act for the board independently without the agreement of the board as a whole. Every board of trustees should govern as a singular unit and speak with a single voice. Every trustee brings their own perspectives to the board room and applies their own experiences and insights to the important discussions and decisions that are made. Yet the commitment to serve on a board of trustees is tied to the inextricable acknowledgement that “no individual trustee has power or authority to act on his or her own.”

ad hoc committee

committee formed for a specific task or objective and which is dissolved after the completion of the objective. Most committees, other than standing committees, are ad hoc.

adaptive leadership

is a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments. It is leadership that determines what is essential to the future and developing/testing “next” practices.


constitutes the activities undertaken by a board or trustee to influence the actions of local, state, and national lawmakers, ranging from letter writing to full-scale lobbying. Through its many activities (the National Legislative Summit, in particular, and publications (white papers and reports), ACCT encourages boards to advocate for their colleges and for their students locally and nationally. A useful tool is an ACCT pamphlet: The Trustee’s Role in Effective Advocacy (2019).

board self-evaluation or board self-assessment

Evaluation of the board provides an opportunity for the board to assess its performance and contributions, establish goals, priorities, and a learning agenda around emerging issues and needs, and to strengthen the board/CEO relationship. A mutually agreeable evaluation process creates a proactive forum where the leadership needs of the institution, and the new and emerging leadership role for the board, can be considered. All regional accrediting agencies are now requiring board self-assessments.

capital projects

are projects that help maintain or improve a campus’ infrastructure. It can be new construction, expansion, renovation or replacement.

climate survey or campus climate survey

an assessment tool and strategy to assess college constituents—faculty, staff, and students’ perceptions of experiences with diversity and inclusion and/or sexual violence. Campus climate surveys have recently been used as a best practice by the U.S. Department of Justice to determine the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault on college campuses.

code of ethics

Board members must meet certain stands of conduct established by the board to carry out their responsibilities. This code or series of responsibilities is usually updated regularly and clarifies specific ethical behaviors such as avoiding conflicts of interest or nepotism. A board’s code of ethics serves as an overarching statement to establish standards of integrity and accountability. Governing boards function best when the ethical standards for trustee behavior are clear.

College Promise (The)

universal free college tuition for low income students, part of president Obama’s stated goal to make college both affordable and debt-free for students, particularly for those who normally would not be able to attend college and gain knowledge and skills required for 21st jobs. Some philanthropic foundations are supporting College Promise Success Initiatives to enable more colleges to supplement their Promise programs with more student success supports.  Many Promise programs vary in design and scope.

confidentiality (for boards)

is the protection of personal information. Effective boards have a code of ethics in their board manual that requires trustees to maintain the confidentiality of personnel decisions, most often discussed in closed sessions. Talking about those discussions outside the sessions is unethical and may open the possibility of legal action against individual trustees (Smith, 2000, p. 135.) When board members want to discuss certain issues privately, the board may go into executive session and ask guests to leave during this part of the discussion.(See executive session)

consent agenda

allows boards to approve routine procedures and items that have unanimous consent without discussion or individual motions. (See Robert’s Rules of Order below.)


Dashboards organize and present information in a way that is very easy to use and read. Individual college. Dashboards typically register indicators of student success to show how well students are doing at a college. Dashboards often provide at-a-glance views of key performance indicators (KPIs) relevant to a particular objective or s process. "Dashboard" is another name for "progress report" or "report." Complete College America maintains a data dashboard that explores common college completion metrics for states.

disaggregated data

data collected in terms of student characteristics (age, race, gender, income, etc.) and not more general institutional data; breaking down information into smaller subpopulations.


Usually referring to controversial speakers who were invited to speak on campus by a particular student group. For those speakers who have created campus disruptions in the past, some student groups and administrators have requested that the students retract their invitations, thus limiting free speech on the basis of potential violence and protest. In a May 2016 commencement address, President Obama urged not to “try to shut folks out or shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them. There’s been a trend around the country to trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view., or disrupt a politician’s rally. Don’t do that—no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths because ..every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk. If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and they can avoid accountability.”

exit strategy (for college leadership)

a strategy for leaving an institution. Many college presidents and other senior leadership develop innovative, thoughtful ways for leaving their colleges. See succession planning below.

free speech zones

also known as First Amendment zones, are areas in the college set aside for the purpose of political protests. Many feel that these zones confine political expression to distant out-of-the-way locations on campus. See also related “disinvitations” and “speech codes.”

higher education divide

currently states the growing racial and economic stratification between two- and four- year colleges.

implicit bias

According to Ohio State University, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Research indicates an increased probably of seeing disruptive behavior in black children; other works confirms racial biases in teacher expectations.


means that all people, regardless of their abilities, disabilities, or health care needs, have the right to: be respected and appreciated as valuable members of their communities, participate in recreational activities in neighborhood settings; work at jobs in the community that pay a competitive wage, and have careers that use their capacities to the fullest and attend general education classes with peers from preschool through college and continuing education.  (See “diversity” above.)

inequity gap

means improving the funding of the community colleges with so many low-income students 

Institutional resilience (the resilient college)

Resilient colleges have flexibility in the institution’s mind-set and goals and are able to adapt their systems to new realities. 

A culture of frugality can be an asset. Pre-pandemic survival strategies that emphasized flexibility (modifying the curriculum to adjust to older students not seeking a degree, eliminating placement testing, having a campus entrepreneurial mindset, etc.) can create a resilient college that can stabilize its finances and retain enrollment.

Resilient colleges pay attention to financial reserves,  cross-train top leaders so they can step in for one another in an emergency and recognize the mental-health needs of students and employees.

knowledge economy

A key concept of the knowledge economy is that knowledge and education (often referred to as human capital) can be treated as a business product, as educational and innovative intellectual products and services can be exported for a high value return. The knowledge economy is a system of consumption and production based on intellectual capital. The knowledge economy commonly makes up a large share of all economic activity in developed countries. In a knowledge economy, a significant part of a company's value may consist of intangible assets, such as the value of its workers' knowledge (intellectual capital), but generally accepted accounting principles do not allow companies to include these assets on balance  sheets. The initial foundation for the knowledge economy was introduced in 1966 in the book The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker in which Drucker described the difference between the manual worker and the knowledge worker. The term was popularized by Peter Drucker as the title of Chapter 12 in his book The Age of Discontinuity.

regional accreditation

institutional accreditation which means an entire school is accredited. That bestows a high level of credibility on a university as a whole. Institutional accreditation can be provided by a regional or national accreditation group. The United States is divided into six geographic regions, and each has its own regional accrediting organization. Only those accrediting groups that are acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Education are considered legitimate: Northwest Commission on Colleges & Universities (NWCCU),  Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC),  Higher Learning Commission (HLC); New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE);  Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and Southern Association of Colleges and School Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).  A map of the scope of each regional accreditor is online. See also “program accreditation” and “CHEA.”

reverse transfer

Awarding or earning an associate’s degree from the college to which a student transferred after completion or awarding of a baccalaureate degree.  The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center has produced a comprehensive study entitled Reverse Transfer: A National View of Student Mobility from Four-year to Two-Year Institutions July 2012.  The 13 state colleges in Wisconsin are implementing an automated system (Reverse Transfer automated data exchange platform through the National Student Clearinghouse) through partnership with the state university.  Colleges’ completion rates get a boost when students do reverse transfer.

shared governance

is a delicate balance between faculty and staff participation in planning and decision-making processes, on the one hand, and administrative accountability on the other. Shared governance varies across the country, but typically refers to decision making shared with the college administration and with faculty and staff. The term may have originated in the nursing field as structural model for nurses to manage their practice with a higher level of professional autonomy.

Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA)

the first comprehensive accountability system specifically designed for community colleges; administered through the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

work-remote policies


Over 95% of U.S. colleges have implemented working from home policies for staff during the pandemic.  Boards have also held meetings remotely.