A Guide to the Election and Appointment of Community College Trustees

November 15, 2018

Community Colleges are invaluable resources in meeting the educational and economic needs of their communities.  Each college reflects the standards of excellence the community sets for itself.  Responsibility for continued excellence is shared by all who appoint or elect trustees to govern on their behalf.

The Community College Mission

Community colleges serve their local communities by providing quality educational opportunities. The specific focus of each college grows from the unique needs of its community for occupational/vocational, transfer, adult developmental, and community education, and economic development. Community colleges are governed by lay boards entrusted to provide ethical leadership and responsible stewardship in balancing current and emerging needs of many constituencies.  The college’s strength depends upon the qualifications of citizens entrusted to govern on behalf of the community.

Community College Governance

Selection and professional development of qualified trustees is essential to overall excellence in community colleges.   The primary responsibility of a board of trustees is meeting the changing educational needs of the community, while reflecting the community’s values in fulfilling the college mission. Primary functions of trusteeship are certifying the consistency of missions and goals with community need, formulating policy, and ensuring effective leadership and responsible use of resources

State laws govern the selection of community college trustees, whether by election or appointment.  Length of term and number of board members vary from state to state, as do specific criteria regarding candidate eligibility.  Criteria may include residency requirements, voter eligibility, and prohibitions against membership on other education boards or employment by the college.

Ethical Leadership

The public trust of governance requires that trustees serve without personal gain to fulfill the college mission.  Exclusionary influences such as partisan politics or personal agendas can precipitate actions unrelated to the college mission and are inappropriate in lay board governance.

Board Excellence

Strong boards are made up of strong individuals with many perspectives, varied expertise, and diverse experiences.  Diversity gives a board balance, depth, and a variety of resources and ensures that the needs of the entire community are recognized and addressed.  Diversity in ethnicity, gender, age, and geography is desirable.  None of these by itself is an appropriate criterion for trusteeship, but all should be considered in board composition.  Recognizing that no individual has all the desired qualifications, effective governing boards achieve excellence and balance by melding the diverse abilities and experiences of individual board members into a strong unit.  Desirability of specific expertise in trustee election or appointment will depend upon the current and anticipated needs of each college and its community, and the strengths of continuing board members.

Trustee Excellence

Excellent board members are knowledgeable about the community and its needs and issues, within the broad context of the educational, social, political, and economic environment.  Trustees must have a commitment to the community college mission, and a vision to facilitate its realization within their college community.

Trustees who contribute to board effectiveness:

  1. act on behalf and for the benefit of the community.
  2. advocate for the community college and those it serves.
  3. commit time and effort to governance responsibilities.
  4. shape consensus among groups and individuals with competing interests
  5. serve without personal gain.

Trustee Professional Development

Trustees often come to the position with some expertise in areas of board responsibilities.  Other important abilities and knowledge can be acquired through education and professional development.  Throughout their tenure as board members, conscientious trustees will continue to acquire the skills necessary for effective trusteeship.  Effective boards encourage and support the professional development of trustees.

Your Role

Thoughtful and informed trustee selection will ensure that community colleges remain accessible and responsive to the people they serve, and that decisions made on behalf of the community reflect its values, educational and economic needs, and standards of excellence.  We share responsibility for the quality of education provided by our local community colleges.

Questions to Guide Trustee Selection

  • Does the candidate meet the legal criteria for trusteeship?
  • Does the candidate understand and appreciate the distinct mission of the community college?
  • Is the candidate knowledgeable about community issues and needs and appreciative of the uniqueness of the college and community?
  • Has the candidate demonstrated service to the community?
  • Does the candidate bring a vision and understanding of the college within the local education system, and within the context of all higher education in the region and state?
  • Does the candidate bring a desire to advocate the college and its students in the community, the district, and at the state and national levels?
  • Is the candidate aware of and knowledgeable about governance responsibilities?
  • Is the candidate willing to commit sufficient time and effort to governance responsibilities?
  • Does the candidate have a commitment to shared leadership with the college president, and a commitment to working with faculty and other members of the college community?
  • Is the candidate aware of ethical issues of board governance and unencumbered by private agendas?
  • Is the candidate sensitive to issues of diversity, and committed to be mindful of the perspectives of all constituencies?
  • Is the candidate able to contribute to a board consensus while respecting diversity of opinion and free exchange of ideas?
  • Does the candidate understand that the board, not the individual, has authority?
  • Is the candidate committed to continuing trustee professional development?
  • Does the candidate bring characteristics and qualities which will enhance the standing of the college within the community?

Association of Community College Trustees

ACCT believes that trustees are responsible to their communities for the colleges whose assets and operations they hold in trust.  Governance of a community college is a complex operation.  The responsibilities are great, and no trustee, elected or appointed, comes to that office with all the knowledge, understanding, and expertise needed to fill the position.

Trusteeship and the knowledge and skills of governance are learned on an ongoing basis.  Training and educating trustees to better understand their role and develop their abilities to best execute that role is a continuing and primary role of ACCT.  Institutions are judged by their effectiveness.  That effectiveness is directly influenced by how they are governed and the qualities each trustee brings to the board of trustees.  Those qualities can only be honed through continued education and training.  Working in conjunction with state associations and community college governing boards, ACCT is charged to continue fulfilling its mission: To foster the principles and practices of exemplary governance while promoting high quality and affordable higher education, cutting-edge workforce and development training, student success, and the opportunity for all individuals to achieve economic self-sufficiency and security.