Michelle Cantú-Wilson, Vice President of Education and Workforce at Outreach Strategists

Dr. Cantú-Wilson is a lifelong educator, having served as an administrator and teacher in both higher education and public education. She is a trustee at San Jacinto College, and she was recently appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Education to the National Assessment Governing Board which sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. She is the Vice President of Education and Workforce at Outreach Strategists. Michelle was the first in her family to attend college. She is married and has three wonderful children. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys reading, writing, and spending time outdoors.


In the complex ecosystem of higher education, governance boards play a pivotal role in shaping policy, setting a strategic plan, and ensuring institutional and fiscal accountability. Colleges and universities, both public and private, are run by trustees who are either elected or appointed. Yet, a concerning trend persists: the absence of formally trained higher education professionals from these crucial decision-making bodies. It’s time to address this glaring gap and recognize the indispensable value of educators in higher education governance.

First and foremost, let’s acknowledge the expertise and insights that formally trained higher education professionals bring to the table. With years of experience in teaching, research, and administration, these individuals possess a deep understanding of the nuances and challenges of the higher education landscape. They are uniquely positioned to offer informed perspectives on issues ranging from curriculum development and academic standards to student support services and faculty development. Education boards are driven by a “students first” mentality. Who better to serve on these boards than those who have firsthand experience with college students?

Despite the urgent need for practitioner representation, there are reasons why qualified individuals are missing from governance boards. One reason is the perception that running for elected office is outside the purview of academia. Unlike traditional political positions, higher education governance boards may not be on the radar of educators as viable avenues for civic engagement. Moreover, the demands of academic life, including teaching, research, and service, leave little time and energy for extracurricular pursuits such as board service.

Additionally, the process of running for elected office can be daunting and unfamiliar to many educators. Campaigning requires navigating complex political landscapes, building networks of support, and mobilizing resources—all of which may seem foreign to those accustomed to the academic realm. Furthermore, the prospect of engaging in contentious political battles may deter some educators who prefer to focus on their scholarly pursuits.

As a community college trustee with a strong background in education, I completely understand the reticence that educators might have towards the idea of running for office. My own decision to run was not an easy one, and imposter syndrome was something I dealt with daily on the campaign trail. After all, what did I know about politics?

But the bigger question was this: knowing so much about the student experience, the classroom experience, the campus experience, and having years of both academic and hands-on expertise, how could I not run? My voice could make a difference, and students deserve difference-makers. This is what I told myself when the campaign felt daunting. When I won my race and was finally seated at the table, the overwhelm I had experienced dissipated. The agenda before me was composed of matters I understood quite well. The duties associated with my position were the opposite of intimidating; I welcomed this important and personally meaningful work.

This is why I believe formally trained educators belong on education boards. We must actively encourage education professionals to consider running for governance boards. This means providing mentorship and guidance on navigating the political process, raising awareness of the importance of board service within the academic community, and creating opportunities for educators to develop the leadership skills necessary for effective governance.

Furthermore, institutions themselves must take proactive steps to ensure that governance boards reflect the diversity and expertise of the higher education sector. This may include revising nomination and selection processes to prioritize candidates with academic backgrounds, establishing term limits to promote turnover and fresh perspectives, and providing training and support for newly elected board members.

The consequences of this underrepresentation are far-reaching. Without the voices of formally trained higher education professionals in governance boards, decisions may lack the depth of understanding and expertise needed to address the complex challenges facing colleges and universities. Moreover, the perspectives of key stakeholders—students, faculty, and staff—are often marginalized in governance discussions, leading to policies that may not fully serve the needs of the academic community.

In conclusion, the lack of formally trained higher education professionals in governance boards is a pressing issue that demands attention and action. By empowering educators to step into leadership roles, we can ensure that governance decisions are informed by a deep understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities facing colleges and universities. Let’s close the gap and build a more inclusive and effective higher education governance system for the benefit of all stakeholders.

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