College Presidents Finding New Ways to Lead Amid Growing Challenges
September 17, 2018

A newly released ACE report highlights how innovative college and university presidents are rising to a variety of daily challenges and empowering their own campuses to take risks and respond strategically. 

ACE’s Center for Policy, Research and Strategy (CPRS) released the brief, “Innovative Leadership: Insights from the American College President Study 2017,” which more closely examines data from the American College President Study (ACPS) and information gathered at a roundtable convened by ACE and the TIAA Institute earlier this year with current and former presidents. 

“Changing demographics, increased competition, declining state support–the convergence of these factors has made for an incredibly turbulent environment, and many college presidents find themselves in a setting that is unprecedented in its complexity,” said Louis Soares, ACE’s chief learning and innovation officer.

Yet, many presidents are able to find ways to turn their predicaments into success and the report distills several shared characteristics of innovative leaders into the following key takeaways:

  1. Developing and maintaining a senior team. Being a university or college president requires a competent team to help run the day-to-day operations of the institution and to advance the institutional mission. Innovative and entrepreneurial presidents recognize the need to develop leaders from within the organization that can fill in at a moment’s notice and ensure organizational continuity. 
  2. Emphasizing strategic decision-making and cultivating a data-enabled culture. Innovative leaders promote decision-making based on evidence, which can increase the tolerance for strategic risk and small failures. Cultivating positive attitudes toward the collection and use of data enables a culture on campus that elevates informed decision-making at all levels across the campus. 
  3. Embracing shared governance. Leaders who are looking to make effective and lasting change on their campuses are introducing multiple perspectives from their boards of regents or faculty leaders. Innovative leaders see shared governance as an opportunity rather than a challenge. 
  4. Turning crisis into opportunity. Innovative presidents are realizing that sometimes the best time to make a strategic shift in strategy and planning is when the institution is either in, or near, crisis. These moments provide rare opportunities that, if handled properly, can increase the financial security, prosperity, and growth of the institution.
  5. Communicating and implementing. Innovative leaders ultimately realize that success on any campus is dependent on effective communication, decision-making, and implementation campus-wide. They create and empower teams of talented, knowledgeable, and functional administrators who they rely on to carry out their visions. 
  6. Engaging with peers inside and outside of higher education. These leaders understand that sometimes the best answer for their problems can be found at another institution. Sharing insights and resources on innovative programs and pedagogies benefits not only their institution but also the practice of higher education as a whole. 

Read the full report here