Higher education leaders, both on campus and in the board room, have never faced more challenging times. The case for that claim is almost anywhere you look in the news, professional literature, and on campus. The question now is, Where shall we go, and how can we get there?

Some of the imperatives for nearly all colleges and universities are to:

  • Maintain/increase educational quality AND dramatically reduce the cost of delivering it.
  • Reduce student costs by maintaining/reducing the tuition rate AND by reducing the time to degree.
  • Serve more ethnically diverse, low-income, and under-prepared students of all ages AND increase the degree completion rate in order to optimize their later successes and create a knowledge-age work force.

My journey with strategy and governance runs from pioneering research on strategic planning and turnaround management, to putting what I learned to use as a system and institutional leader, to putting my knowledge and experience to work for presidents, chancellors, executive teams, and trustees. Some of what I’ve learned is:

  • Traditional strategic planning does not work in a fast-changing environment with declining resources (if indeed it ever did work). What’s needed? See my perspective at Getting Down to Why: How Boards Can Make a Difference.
  • You can change programs, you can change location or type of students, and you can change instructional delivery vehicles – you can call it changing your business model, and it might get you through. But then your top competitors will be the ones that are now ALSO developing entirely new approaches to helping people learn, taking innovation to a whole new level. They’ll be way ahead of you.
  • If you cannot create and thoroughly vet a financially sustainable condition for your institution some 10-20 years hence, you are at a disadvantage now and you will be then.
  • You are not likely to reach your institution’s potential unless your governing board steps up to its strategic role in partnership with the president. For institutions that share a board as part of a system, this may mean engaging a local advisory board.
  • Strong, principled, capable leadership has never been more essential, nor has governing board support for such leaders.

This site provides resources for anyone interested in leadership and governance as it is happening now in U.S. higher education. Please send me your comments and suggestions!


Ellen Chaffee bio and resume 2020


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