New Report Examines Roles, Characteristics, and Career Aspirations of CAOs

CAO Report coverA new CIC report, A Study of Chief Academic Officers at Independent Colleges and Universities, 2009–2019, focuses on the current characteristics, duties, and career aspirations of chief academic officers at CIC member institutions as well as how they have changed over a decade of considerable evolution in American higher education.

CIC President Richard Ekman highlighted the timeliness of this report, saying, “In today’s higher education environment, CAOs are contending with major changes in their core responsibilities. This report characterizes some of those changes, and it confirms that CAOs spend most of their time setting and directing the academic agenda of the institution.”

The principal author of this new report is Lesley McBain, CIC’s director of research projects. The study is based on a survey instrument originally administered in 2009 and 2013 by the American Council on Education and extends the research originally published in CIC’s 2009 report, A Study of Chief Academic Officers of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Some key findings include:

  • In 2019, the average age of chief academic officers at CIC institutions was 58 years old, identical to 2013 and only one year older than their average age of 57 in 2009;

  • The 2019 respondents were split evenly between male and female (50 percent each), a notable change from 2009 (61 percent male, 39 percent female);

  • Overall, the average length of time that CIC respondents reported serving in their current CAO position was 4.6 years, falling back to near 2009 levels (when they reported serving an average of 4.3 years) from 5.3 years in 2013;

  • In 2019, 60 percent of CIC chief academic officers’ previous positions within higher education fell into the “other academic administrator” (associate/assistant vice president or dean) category, up from 50 percent in 2009 (see figure below).

  • The overwhelming majority of CAO respondents (93 percent) reported being satisfied with their jobs, with 53 percent being “satisfied” and another 40 percent being “very satisfied,” although the “very satisfied” figure has decreased by 9 percentage points from 2013; and
  • The top frustration of CIC CAOs in 2019 was never having enough money to carry out plans (58 percent). The second-highest frustration was lack of time to think and reflect (49 percent), followed closely by faculty resistance to change (45 percent) as the third-highest frustration.

Other topics covered in the report include CIC chief academic officers’ principal working relationships (both best and most challenging), career alterations (whether for caregiving or a spouse’s career), and time spent on particular academic functions, working with external constituencies (such as governing boards or community members), and on their own research and teaching. The report also examines CAO respondents’ interest—or lack thereof—in ascending to a college presidency.

The full report is available on the CIC website.

Bar Graph: CIC Chief Academic Officers' Previous Positions, 2009-2019
Source: Council of Independent Colleges. 2019. A Study of Chief Academic Officers at Independent Colleges and Universities, 2009–2019.