- The American college presidency is poised to undergo major change, with half of independent college presidents planning to leave their posts in the next five years, according to a report from the Council of Independent Colleges examining data from a 2016 survey of CIC and other college presidents' demographics, work priorities and frustrations.
- New leadership is expected to be a catalyst for other change. The report recommends diversifying the presidency by identifying potential candidates early in their career and grooming them for the position. The typical CIC president in 2016 was a 61-year-old white man, though the percentage of female presidents was up 13 percentage points from 1986 to 30% and the share of non-white, Hispanic or Latino/a presidents was 11%, up from 5% in 2011.
- Pain points for current presidents indicate likely priorities for their successors. For example, six in 10 presidents said addressing racial and gender bias is a growing priority. A similar share cited a lack of funding as their biggest frustration. And one in three said they didn't feel prepared for the task of technology planning when they took office.
There are a number of initiatives across higher education focused on creating a diversified pipeline of leaders as the number of presidents announcing their retirement continues to increase. The CIC's share of presidents planning to leave their post in the next five years is smaller than that of other types of institutions.
At some institutions, the role of chief diversity officer has become a stepping stone to the presidency, Inside Higher Ed reported. The position requires working with a range of college stakeholders on a complex web of issues that impact student and faculty recruitment and retention. That includes understanding the impact of immigration policy, the barriers to college affordability, the needs of first-generation and nontraditional students, and the prevalence and impact of discrimination based on race, ethnicity and gender.
Colleges and universities face tremendous pressure to compete on a global scale, but there is very little training available to help presidents meet that mission. A 2017 report from The Aspen Institute gathered insight from 35 college presidents at community colleges, liberal arts colleges, regional public universities and research universities on what the next generation of college and university presidents needs to be successful. The findings include the need to:
- Improve transition planning, professional development and peer learning opportunities.
- Leverage boards to recruit and support institutional leadership.
- Diversify the presidential talent pool.
Such changes are critical to helping presidents effectively lead institutions through the current technological and social changes amid declining public funding, shrinking enrollment and more competition for donor dollars.