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Colleges continue to face significant obstacles as they try to diversify their governing boards, a new report from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) finds.

The report combines previous data from a 2021 survey on policies, practices and composition of governing boards with 18 new interviews of board professionals who work closely with trustees and administrators.

“The unfortunate backlash to equity and inclusion efforts across the country obscures the evidence that diversity of experience—whether racial, ethnic, professional, geographic, or other, such as veteran or alumni status—can be a huge boon to boards trying to forecast the future,” said Ellen Chaffee, AGB’s interim president and CEO.

One of the largest stumbling blocks AGB identified was donation requirements for board members. With societal wealth gaps by race, gender and age, not everyone is in the position to make the sizable annual donation often expected of board members. Interviewees also said that a lack of firmly codified qualifications for board members can lead to misconceptions about who is a good candidate and can limit opportunities for individuals of underrepresented demographic groups. And similarly, the findings showed higher ed officials often perceive diversity and qualifications for board membership as exclusive.

Such thinking, AGB concludes, leads to less diversification of board members.

In response, the report suggests individually tailored trustee contribution agreements rather than a blanket policy for all, and conducting bylaw reviews to clarify the qualifications for board members and remove any unnecessary barriers.