July 1, 2020
Partners' Board Member Spotlights the Role of College Trustees in New Book on College Affordability, Student Debt

This month, Partners’ board member and president emeritus of Old Dominion University James V. Koch released The Impoverishment of the American College Student, a new book focused on public higher education and college affordability. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vimal Patel featured Koch in a recent article where he shared his inspiration behind the book and his focus on restoring the promise of higher education as centers for social mobility.

"We are approaching a crisis situation in the United States with respect to the ability of individuals to move upward in society. I would not blame all of that on higher education, but higher education is a major part of the problem. I wanted to thoroughly dissect the data and generate something that would be reasonably definitive in saying, this is the situation. Here’s how we got here. And here’s what we can do about it."

When asked point-blank how to make college more affordable – one of the most pressing domestic policy issues of our time – Koch points to the role of governing boards in holding the line on tuition increases, citing his own experience with college trustees during his time as a college president.

“Every tuition and fee increase at a public institution is approved by a board of trustees or regents. Usually the votes are unanimous. I was president for 15 years, so I sang some of the same songs that presidents and administrators sing these days [when they want tuition hikes]. Presidents end up co-opting their boards. They give them tickets to all the events. They do all kinds of things that make the board members feel good and make the board members feel this is really important and that they need to do what the president asks them to do.”

Can America’s 50,000 public college trustees do better? Koch says they can, and they should.

“Yes. Part of the problem is they get appointed by governors or elected officials and think they’re supposed to be advocates for the institution rather than representing the public and taxpayers and students. They become advocates for the institution and perhaps even the president rather than saying, we’re here to represent citizens and taxpayers and make sure the university is doing what it should be doing for society at large.”

According to the book’s synopsis, college trustees often forget their “primary responsibility” is to the citizens and students the institutions exist to serve, stating that “concerted, informed public pressure on governors, legislators, and board members is necessary to move institutions in more positive directions.”

Read the full Chronicle article HERE.

In addition to empowering student and family consumers to play a stronger role in holding institutional decision-makers accountable, Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust also believes in empowering board members with the resources and information they need to address these concerns and make informed decisions. That’s why we’ve developed a document to help board members ask the right – and sometimes difficult – questions. Read more here!