ACPS Brief: Women Are Ready to Lead
Published: August 01, 2018

A growing population of women college presidents is bringing years of experience and preparation to the role, particularly at institutions that serve post-traditional learners and students of color, according to data from ACE’s American College President Study (ACPS).

ACE’s Center for Policy, Research and Strategy (CPRS) released a new brief, “Leading the Way to Parity: Preparation, Persistence, and the Role of Women Presidents,” which summarizes data from ACPS and reflects on an exploratory roundtable discussion convened by CPRS last year. The brief provides additional information and recommendations aimed at increasing the representation of women among college presidents. 

According to ACPS, the percentage of presidencies held by women was around 30 percent in 2016–the last year the ACPS survey was conducted. That rate was just a four percentage point increase since 2011. However, 54 percent of the presidents surveyed said they planned to leave their current position within five years. 

This urgent need for qualified leaders supports the importance of bringing women into higher levels of institutional leadership as well as the presidency, the brief says. 

Over 80 percent of all ACPS sur¬vey respondents indicated that it is very important or important to encourage searches to yield a signifi¬cant number of qualified women candidates. 

Many women are uniquely qualified as representatives of their institutions, with 85 percent having served immediately before their presidency in senior institutional leadership positions, including 35 percent who served as provosts, according to the data. Many women bring training from formal pathways, such as PhD and EdD programs (86 percent), as well as professional leadership development programs (72 percent). 

The report also revealed that women are more likely to serve as presidents at institutions that serve historically marginalized populations of students, including at associate colleges and minority serving institutions. 

ACE’s brief offers several recommendations to increase the representation of women among college presidents.

For current and former presidents:

  • Engage in formal mentoring to identify and prepare future women presidents. 
  • Support and advance women to become chief academic officers, a key stepping stone to the presidency for women. 

For presidential search participants:

  • Ensure equal disclosure of the institution’s challenges and financial condition. 
  • Ensure a strong pool of women candidates. 

For leaders at all levels in higher education:

  • Invest in women in earlier stages of their leadership development. 
  • Provide formal leadership training opportunities.

Meaningful parity will only be achieved when it is sustained and sustainable—when women not only reach the presidency, but are established in the position in a way that sets them up to succeed and endure, the brief says.

Click here to see a new infographic highlighting women’s pathways toward the college presidency as well as their preparation for and responsibilities within the role.