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Study Finds Higher Education Presidential Pipeline Is Slow to Change

March 04, 2013

On the Pathway to the Presidency


​A selection of 149 four-year higher education institutions tracked between 2008 and 2013 showed slight increases in the age and gender diversity of senior administrators holding positions that often lead to the presidency but no change in the share of racial and ethnic minorities in these roles, according to a new report from ACE.

At a time when 58 percent of all college presidents are age 61 or older and nearing retirement, On the Pathway to the Presidency examines the key demographics—including gender, age, ethnicity, time in position and location of previous position—of their most likely replacements.

The study, a collaboration between ACE and the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), was generously supported by the TIAA-CREF Institute. It is based on a survey of human resources professionals at colleges and universities nationwide and is the second edition of the study first issued in 2008.

"Last year's American College President Study showed us that 26 percent of presidents are women and 13 percent are racial or ethnic minorities," said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. "As a companion to that study, this report helps us better understand who is poised to become part of the next generation of leadership. It will be instructive in future efforts to make the senior leadership of American higher education more reflective of the student body it serves."

"Diversity—of both thought and background—helps drive fresh ideas and perspectives, enriching the intellectual and cultural environment of an organization," said Stephanie Bell-Rose, senior managing director and head of the TIAA-CREF Institute. "This study underscores the importance of developing a diverse higher education leadership pipeline, which is essential to meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student population."

The study focuses on data on chief academic officers (CAOs) and senior academic officers, such as associate provosts or deans of graduate studies, because in 2012's American College President Study, 45 percent of presidents list CAO or senior academic officer as their immediate prior position. That study also was supported by the TIAA-CREF Institute.

Among a matched sample of 149 four-year institutions that answered the survey in both 2008 and 2013, the following trends emerged:

  • The percentage of women in senior administrative leadership positions increased from 40 to 43 percent overall. Today, women make up 49 percent of chief diversity officers, 41 percent of CAOs, 72 percent of chiefs of staff, 28 percent of deans of academic colleges and 36 percent of executive vice presidents.
  • While overall, racial/ethnic characteristics of senior leaders remained the same, the share of African Americans in the CAO position declined from 3.7 percent to 2.3 percent, while Asian American CAOs declined from 3.7 percent to 2.4 percent and Hispanic CAOs declined from 1.5 percent to 0.8 percent.
  • The share of senior leaders 61 or older increased from 21 percent to 26 percent between 2008 and 2013. The average age of administrators at these institutions is 55 and ranges from 52 for chief student affairs officers to 57 for deans and CAOs. Nearly a third of CAOs are 61 or older, and the share of senior academic affairs officers in that age group increased by 11 percentage points to 34 percent.
  • Among all senior administrative positions, colleges and universities in this sample were just as likely now to hire senior leaders from within as they were in 2008, although the share of CAO hires from within declined from 43 percent to 41 percent, and the share of senior academic affairs officers increased from 67 percent to 69 percent.

"The data overall don't indicate large demographic shifts in these positions over the past five years, but in our 20 years of researching the American College President Study, we've learned that large-scale change doesn't happen overnight," said Bryan J. Cook, director of ACE's Center for Policy Analysis. "However, we can use this information to focus our efforts on areas where diverse leadership is wanting."

Also included in the study are the results of the broader survey, with information on about 3,900 individuals in senior leadership positions. The majority of the data is on four-year institutions, but an appendix on two-year institutions is included, also indicating very slight changes overall.

MEDIA CONTACT: Ginnie Titterton ▪ 202-939-9368 ▪

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