Infographic Series Highlights CAOs’ Background, Job Duties and Career Paths
February 24, 2016

ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy recently released a series of infographics highlighting the background, job duties and professional pathways of chief academic officers (CAOs), the most senior academic official on college and university campuses.

Data are derived from ACE’s most recent survey of CAOs in which nearly 1,400 individuals participated. Conducted every 4 years, the survey monitors any significant shifts in the personal characteristics, career paths and aspirations, and core responsibilities of CAOs.


  • The survey revealed that those who hold the CAO role are predominantly white.  
  • Men outnumber women CAOs at four-year institutions, while the opposite is true at two-year institutions. 
  • The average tenure for CAOs is five years in their current role, while the median tenure is four years.  
  • There is a much greater share of CAOs with an education degree at 2-year institutions than at 4-year institutions, and a greater share of PhD holders overall at four-year institutions.

Job Duties (PDF):

  • Survey respondents reported their most important tasks as CAOs are setting the academic vision for the institution, accountability and accreditation and strategic planning. 
  • CAOs spend the most time on supervising deans and other staff, academic oversight and accountability and accreditation. 
  • CAOs at 2-year institutions in particular reported that accountability and accreditation is the most time-consuming of their duties.  
  • The majority of CAOs indicated their desire for more fundraising training followed by a need for more development in budgeting and financial management and assistance with governing board relations.

Professional Pathways:

  • The CAO position remains a predominant one on the pathway to the college presidency, with about one-third of CAOs planning to seek a presidency in the future. 
  • Among CAOs, men aspire to the presidency more so than women, although women are more likely to take concrete steps to prepare for the presidency. 
  • CAOs of color are slightly more likely to aspire to the presidency than white CAOs.

Click below for all four infographics in the series (individual PDFs range from 69-120 KB each).