Two CIC Programs Prepare Future Leaders of Independent Colleges

“The future of the independent college presidency is in our hands. Cultivating the future leaders of our sector is a high priority for CIC and should be important to all who care about the life-changing work of our institutions.” This is why, according to president Richard Ekman, CIC offers two distinctive yearlong leadership development programs that prepare senior college and university administrators to assume a successful presidency: the Executive Leadership Academy and the Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission program. Complementary in their approaches, both programs have led a significant number of participants to serve in a presidency.


ELA brochure coverThe goal of the Executive Leadership Academy (ELA) is to equip senior administrators (typically experienced vice presidents and provosts) for success in the presidency. Participants in the ELA acquire new knowledge, skills, and experiences that are directly related to the portfolio of responsibilities central to the work of the president. The signature program elements are two seminars during successive summers, led by current and former academic leaders; development of a highly individualized Professional Experience Plan; and a formal mentorship designed to fill in gaps in the participant’s expertise and experience. The Academy also includes readings, webinars, and other gatherings with program participants, mentors, and program leadership.

Participants value the practical nature of the program. Past participant Richanne C. Mankey, now president of Defiance College (OH), reflected, “The ELA was incredibly helpful to me in reaching my career goals. I believe my ascendency to the presidency was a direct result of learning about what gaps in experience I had along with encouragement and practical ways to fill in those gaps. We can’t know what we don’t know when walking into these complex positions, yet the ELA enabled me to think about the presidency in realistic ways.”

The ELA is offered in partnership with the American Academic Leadership Institute (AALI), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), and CIC, and it is generously supported by Academic Search. The program is led by Linda Bleicken, president of AALI and president emerita of Armstrong State University. Approximately half of each cohort’s participants serve at CIC institutions and half at AASCU colleges and universities. With generous support from AALI, in 2020–2021 CIC again will offer several fellowships to enhance the gender, racial, and ethnic diversity of the pool of well-prepared leaders of colleges and universities. Preference for these fellowships will be given to nominees from under-resourced institutions that otherwise might be unable to support a participant in the leadership development programs.

THINKING DEEPLY ABOUT Vocation and Mission

CIC’s Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission program, generously supported by Lilly Endowment Inc., strengthens participants’ ability to secure and sustain a presidency with a different emphasis from the Executive Leadership Academy. At the forefront of the former program is the congruence of institutional mission and personal vocation to strengthen presidential leadership and institutional success. In this program, prospective presidents who currently serve as vice presidents and provosts—along with their spouses or partners—read and think deeply about meaning and purpose in life as those values are applied to the presidency in independent higher education. They then explore what makes the mission of one college or university distinct from that of another.

“Participants leave the Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission program with a strong understanding of what their next step should be. They choose the searches they enter based on their discernment of the likelihood of sufficient alignment between their deepest commitments and an institution’s distinctive characteristics and mission,” emphasized program director Frederik Ohles, president emeritus of Nebraska Wesleyan University and CIC senior advisor. CIC believes that this kind of thoughtful matching is a common feature of longer, more satisfying, and more successful presidencies.

A critical element of the program is the full participation of spouses and partners of prospective presidents. Debbie Cottrell, recently appointed president of Texas Lutheran University, stated: “This program was tremendously helpful to my career discernment. For Alan and me, it was a unique opportunity to evaluate our next steps within the context of calling and purpose and to consider what service would mean to us in the future. We benefited from the guidance of experienced facilitators and met peer colleagues who became friends. Their ongoing support continues to undergird our work, and we are extremely grateful for what the program provided to us.”

The Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission program, like the ELA, is a seminar-based program. Participants gather twice as a group to discuss a wide range of writings—such as from Aristotle, Catherine Bateson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Each participating individual or couple also has several telephone consultations with members of the facilitator team during the program year.
“CIC is heavily committed to these programs because there is a pressing need for highly qualified presidential candidates,” Ekman said. “Presidents are serving shorter terms, and search consultants report that the candidate pools in presidential searches are becoming smaller. Fewer chief academic officers, once seen as the natural ‘feeder’ position to a presidency, are interested in the job.” In a recent CIC survey of chief academic officers, only 24 percent reported an interest in seeking a presidency. “The goal of these two programs is to create more and stronger candidates for these positions from a range of senior administrative positions,” added Ekman.

Both programs include elements important to the success of future college presidents. For example, participants must be nominated and supported by the president of the institution. This implicit support offers the best chance for the program to have a meaningful impact on the work of the participant. Both programs also include mentorship and seminar components. As reported in CIC’s recent study, CAOs believe that a mentorship could greatly impact their desire to serve in a presidency. And importantly, the opportunity to meet face-to-face multiple times through a yearlong program allows participants the opportunity for rapport to be developed, for friendships to be made, and for talent to blossom.

Program Deadlines


CIC Nomination Deadline: January 17, 2020
Seminar Dates: June 25–27, 2020, Washington, DC, and June 14–16, 2021, Washington, DC
View ELA program information and nomination procedures.


CIC Nomination Deadline: February 7, 2020
Seminar Dates: July 19–22, 2020, Stevenson, WA, and February 21–23, 2021, Atlanta, GA
View Vocation and Mission program information and nomination procedures.