Academic Advisory Board + Best Practices = Benefits for Program, Faculty, and Students

Deborah B. Gentry, Ed.D., CFLE, NCFR Academic Program Liaison
/ CFLE Network, Fall 2018
Deborah Gentry

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Of all the tasks associated with my role as APR Liaison, one of my favorites is to chat with academic program contacts by e-mail, phone, or face-to-face conversation. The context for such chats is typically an inquiry about pursuing approval for the first time; a discussion of next steps to take after a program has attained its initial approval; or having to do with the process of periodic renewal of approved status. For the most part, these conversations entail moments of visioning, brainstorming, anticipation, and/or excitement. On occasion, the idea of forming and utilizing an academic advisory board surfaces, either for the program in its entirety or just for the CFLE component: possible types, functions, tasks, benefits, cautions, and best practices. Limitations for the length of this column necessitates my attending to these topics with relative brevity. However, readers can turn to various references cited at the close of the column for more insight.

In academic settings, there are governing boards and advisory boards. While governing boards have significant policy-making and fiduciary roles to play, advisory boards are composed of relevant, accomplished experts offering advice and insight for guiding curricular, assessment, research, occupational, marketing, and/or fund- or friend-raising initiatives. If the multifaceted benefits of advisory boards are to be realized, then an active, working entity is preferred to a “letterhead” entity, that is, one that simply exists for publicizing the names of the prestigious members who have agreed to serve in name only. Indeed, one of the “best practices” of creating and maintaining a vital, productive advisory board is to ensure its members, in the whole or in subcommittees, are engaged in meaningful tasks they can readily see are valued.

An advisory board, especially one amply populated with experts who maintain the CFLE designation, could be tasked with helping to assess a program’s curriculum. Among the enhancements they might recommend at the end of their efforts could be to redesign one or more courses and then subsequently ready the necessary documents for applying to become a CFLE APR–approved program. In anticipation of some administrative skeptics of this potential move, board members could collectively or individually share various rationales for obtaining approved status. A newly approved CFLE APR program could form an advisory board (also amply peopled with professionals who maintain CFLE credentials) tasked with helping to publicize the program to various community and workplace entities. Subcommittees of the board could take on different foci for their work. For example, friend-raising or fundraising. Or a subcommittee could seek to add to an existing list of potential guest lecturers/speakers, sites for fieldtrips, and sites for internships/practicums. Yet another could solicit funds for student scholarships, technology and facility upgrades, and small grants to support faculty or student professional travel.

Long-standing approved programs could call upon advisory board members, particularly those with a CFLE designation, to help brainstorm innovative ways to address the “areas for improvement” identified by APR Committee reviewers during a first approval or renewal process. Or, taking on a different kind of focus, board members could help facilitate faculty research projects, including those with a scholarship of teaching and learning emphasis. They might be able to identify possible research sites or sources of funding to support project implementation.

Each of these scenarios has, at least indirectly, begun to speak to the potential benefits an academic advisory board could have for students, faculty, and the program itself. In addition to augmented, cutting-edge courses (including service learning and internships/practicums experiences), students can graduate from a program that is viewed by community organizations and agencies as credible, high quality, and useful. Faculty members have opportunities to acquire updated information about policies and procedures (such as licensing); community demographics and services; and agency/organization budgeting and management strategies from various advisory board members. Upon sharing this knowledge with students, perceptions of faculty credibility likely improve. Increasingly, institutions of higher education are placing assessment of student performance and learning among their top priorities. When an advisory board is used as one of several assessment mechanisms and the outcomes of its activities help to evidence high-quality programming, then chairs, directors, deans, provosts, and presidents are well satisfied (Blaisure, 2012; Dove, 2012).

As I have researched the topic of academic advisory boards, I have come across some accounts of poor outcomes. For example, some or all members of an advisory group can overstep boundaries with each other as well as with program faculty and leaders. The advice-giving or consultative role transforms into one that seems more dictatorial. Most of the unfortunate outcomes that are reported can be prevented, or at least minimized, by following a variety of best practices, of which there are many. I have chosen to feature those that are most frequently mentioned in the literature.

  • Bring together a board of proper size for your purposes. Recommended size varies anywhere from 8 to 28 members. A board solely focusing on CFLE matters could perhaps suffice with 12 to 15 members.
  • Ensure board membership is diverse in multiple ways. Including a student member is wise.
  • Extend a personal invitation to serve, then follow-up with a formal written letter of invitation.
  • With input from members, refine the mission, goals, and objectives for the board.
  • Articulate clear expectations by formulating formal bylaws and procedures. Abide by these bylaws and procedures in an effort either to elect or appoint officers. It is important the chairperson be dynamic and collegial.
  • With input, identify short- and long-term tasks and intended outcomes. Decide whether there is a need for subcommittees.
  • With input, determine how often to meet and how long meetings will typically last. Much depends on the urgency and complexity of the workload.
  • Keep board members well informed, actively engaged, and feeling useful and appreciated.
  • Amply prepare for meetings and work to ensure agendas are carried out efficiently. Be sure to document meeting highlights, as well as work outcomes, via minutes and reports.
  • From time to time, invite faculty and other unit staff to interact with board members, perhaps during the social time that occurs before or after a board meeting.
  • Determine ways to appropriately recognize, thank, and perhaps even compensate board members for their work and support.
  • Be prepared to following bylaws and procedures to replace board members who fail to meet various expectations (e.g., attendance, work completion, poor collegiality, and so on).
  • When the time is right, bring the work of a board to a proper and fitting close.

I am curious about how many, and in what ways, CFLE-approved programs utilize advisory boards. The Directions and Guidelines document does not feature a prompt calling for this information to be provided in the narrative section of application materials. I encourage readers to write to me at [email protected] to tell me about various advisory board–related involvement they have had. Another venue for sharing experiences and posing questions related to this topic would be relevant NCFR electronic discussion groups (e.g., CFLE—Academic Program Review, CFLE—Certified Family Life Educator, Advancing Family Science Section, or the Academic Administrator and Leadership Focus Group).

References and Resources

Bishop, J. P. (2015). Creation and maintenance of an emergency management program advisory committee: How to develop and utilize an advisory board. Retrieved from

Blaisure, K. (2012). The role of advisory boards in assessment. In J. McElroy (Ed.), Function and value of advisory boards for academic programs. Symposium conducted at the meeting of the National Council on Family Relations, Phoenix, AZ. Retrieved from

Dickey, B. (2012). Creating and maintaining a family studies advisory board. In J. McElroy (Ed.), Function and value of advisory boards for academic programs. Symposium conducted at the meeting of the National Council on Family Relations, Phoenix, AZ. Retrieved from

Dove, L. (2012, November). Benefits of advisory boards for students, faculty, and board members. In J. McElroy, Function and value of advisory boards for academic programs. Symposium conducted at the meeting of the National Council on Family Relations, Phoenix, AZ. Retrieved from

McElroy, J., & Dove, L. (2012, November). Types and functions of advisory boards. In J. McElroy (Eds.), Function and value of advisory boards for academic programs. Symposium conducted at the meeting of the National Council on Family Relations, Phoenix, AZ. Retrieved from

Nehls, K., & Nagai, J. (2013). Objectives of volunteer advisory boards in higher education: Recommendations and postulations from an institutional study. The International Journal of Volunteer Administration, 29, 41–52.

Olson, G. A. (2008, February 22). The importance of external boards. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management. (n.d.). Advisory board member responsibilities and guidelines. Retrieved from