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New Report Looks at the Status of Women in Higher Education

January 15, 2016


​A new infobrief by ACE's Center for Policy Research and Strategy and ACE's Division of Leadership Programs updates key statistics about women in higher education, examining issues like tenure, compensation and representation in high-ranking leadership positions, such as the presidency and membership on governing boards.

"Pipelines, Pathways, and Institutional Leadership: An Update on the Status of Women in Higher Education,” is part of the Higher Ed Spotlight series and continues the conversation that was started by “The White House Project: Benchmarking Women’s Leadership,” published in 2009, and “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States,” Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver’s follow-up report in 2013.

The purpose of the infobrief is to promote a dialogue on how to move the needle and increase the number of women leaders, and it also busts the “pipeline myth”—the idea that there are too few women qualified for leadership positions. The data indicate women are moving through the pipeline and being prepared for leadership positions at a greater rate than men, with female students having earned half or more of all baccalaureate degrees for the past three decades and half of all doctoral degrees for almost a decade. However, the report found that despite the number of female graduates available for leadership positions, women do not hold associate professor or full professor positions at the same rate as their male peers.

In looking at tenure, the report found that the more prestigious the position, the fewer the number of female faculty members who have tenure. For example, in 2014, male faculty members held a higher percentage of tenure positions at every type of institution even though they did not hold the highest number of faculty positions at every rank.

The infobrief also found a persistent pay gap, with men outearning women by $13,616 at public institutions and $17,843 at private institutions. Overall, during the 2013–14 academic year, male faculty members made an average of $85,528, and female faculty members made an average of $70,355. In fact, no matter the academic rank, men make more than women and are more likely to hold a tenure track position.

While the number of women to hold the position of president has increased since 1986, as of 2011, women only held 27 percent of presidencies across all institutions of higher education. Women presidents are less likely than male presidents to be married or have children and are more likely to have altered their careers for their family.

Though there are slight increases at both public and private institutions in the number of women serving as a chief academic officer (CAO), the percentage of women serving as a CAO has declined from 2008 to 2013 at public doctoral degree-granting institutions. Similar to postsecondary presidents, fewer female CAOs are married and have children than their male counterparts.

Previous steady progress on college and university governing boards has slowed, with the number of female board members holding steady at roughly 30 percent for nearly two decades. The preliminary data indicate that men outnumbered women on both public and independent college and university governing boards by more than two to one.

While this infobrief highlights areas of needed improvement, ACE's Division of Leadership Programs is already committed to helping to increase the number of women in higher education senior leadership positions through programs, research and resources. The Moving the Needle initiative recently launched a national call-to-action campaign that asks presidents of colleges, universities and related associations to commit to helping achieve the goal that by 2030 half of U.S. college and university chief executives are women.

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