Trustee Talk, Issue 14: GISS and State Systems


Why did the Governance Institute for Student Success (GISS) focus on State System Governing Boards in 2018? How are statewide boards different from local college governing boards? How can my board get such training?


The Governance Institute for Student Success (GISS) works with trustees and presidents of community and technical colleges to establish a culture of accountability and evidenced-based planning through effective and collaborative governance to achieve student equity, success, and completion.  GISS is an initiative originally founded in 2009 by the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It has held 32 institutes across the nation in 23 states since 2010 including 5 institutes for Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) funded by the Lumina Foundation.

Why the focus on State Systems?

The focus on statewide governing boards stemmed from a grant from Strada Education Network. With major support from Strada, GISS administered its 32nd institute and its second regional state systems institute November 29-30, 2018, in Nashua, New Hampshire, for five New England states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Earlier Strada funded our first state system regional institute in April 2018 in Birmingham, Alabama, for four Southern states: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi. Ivy Tech in Indiana, the largest state system, held their GISS in two parts, in April 2018, in Muncie, and then in August 2018 in Lafayette, Indiana, also supported by Strada.  

How do state systems differ from local governing boards? 

State systems not only vary from local college governing boards, but they differ greatly from each other.

We anticipated differences among the state systems regionally and were surprised to find that state systems developed idiosyncratically out of the educational infrastructure in place at the time regardless of region. Almost every state system was different from its neighbor, except for having a statewide governing board with policy and budgetary responsibilities.

Some were connected to their state’s university system; some were governing all aspects of education in a state, while others focused solely on higher education or K-12 as well.  Some colleges in a state system had local advisory boards; some did not.  Each state system had different roles and responsibilities for its board, and the language or terminology used varied a great deal from one system to another. Terms like “chancellor” or “commissioner” have different meanings (e.g., roles, responsibilities) in different states.  The State of Community College Governance: Complexity, Uniqueness Characterize Our Nation’s State System Governing Boards in the Fall issue 2018 of Trustee Quarterly highlights such differences. 

Working with State System Boards

Working with statewide boards for GISS meant curriculum and program changes. We anticipated that some state system boards would be fairly proficient in reviewing student success data, and many were. Others, however, were less adept and needed the training to focus on student progress and success.  One New England board member confided that her board never really reviewed disaggregated student cohort data before, and thus for some, this institute training was significant. We explained the indicators and then discussed the finer points of the impact on student and college outcomes. In these data reviews, state and college teams then identified areas of progress and areas of concern and developed questions about what the data revealed.

Regional state system institutes meant bringing in national speakers and regional partners. Among many partners, including Strada’s Senior VP for Workforce Strategies, Michele Weise, ACCT’s CEO, Noah Brown, ACCT Board of Directors trustee Bernie Rhinerson from San Diego, Century Foundation Senior Analyst on the College Promise, Jen Mishory, and special guest speakers including Dr. Madeline Pumariega, former Chancellor of the Florida College System, who spoke about boards Making that Cultural Shift to 21st Century Teaching and Learning.

GISS is an excellent networking tool to generate regional discussion about critical topics such as workforce preparation, working with industry and developing partnerships for shared goals. Many board members are very well informed yet appreciate the national perspective and the nationally known speakers that the GISS provides.

How can my board get such training?

Student success is the driving force for progress. GISS institutes across the country come to a state or region in various ways: trustees, presidents, state associations, and state systems. Customizing for each state is important so that agendas are tailored for each region’s needs and requests. Primarily through a focus on healthy board functioning, data reviews, and guided teamwork, GISS provides opportunities for colleges, districts, and state systems to come together to champion student achievement.

Providing rich resource materials is a staple at an institute. GISS staff compile detailed binders with helpful information about board development, self-assessments, regional student data, regional and national workforce issues, and other relevant materials, including a USB full of national reports plus data on each college and each state system. State profiles by national organizations were provided to each participant. Each attendee also received copies of Strada’s College to Life: Relevance and the Value of Higher Education and Human+ Skills for the Future of Work, plus many other national reports.  

Board Self-Assessment

ACCT’s Board Self-Assessment was offered as part of participating in a GISS institute. These third-party assessments serve well for accreditation requirements and can help a board become more cohesive in meeting their goals.

Additional Questions & ACCT’s Role:

GISS is just one of many trustee education strategies offered by ACCT. In working closely with local and state system governing boards, GISS participants pose more questions:

  • How can ACCT continue to help boards and college leaders deal with the current disruptions to business as usual?
  • With the advent of technological advancement, the growth of credentials, and the changing workforce, how can we help colleges, states, and boards prepare for these changes to foster student progress into the changing worlds of work and learning?

ACCT has a national role in addressing the leadership pipeline for boards, trustees and presidents to prepare for the evolution of the community college sector. Challenges to our sector cannot be addressed adequately by policies of the past. We must help boards think more constructively how to lead and evaluate the work of institutions around issues of student success, inclusion, and equity. We recognize the need for boards across the country to confront today’s disruptive forces and to become laser-focused on student success to accommodate the changing workforce and social and economic needs of our nation. Please contact us with your questions and comments.

Disclaimer: This newsletter is offered for general informational purposes only. It is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice

Do YOU have a Question for us? Email your question to: Norma Goldstein