New Report Examines Characteristics of Independent College Presidents

report coverFor more than a decade, research into the CIC presidency has been a primary source of information used to help both current presidents and those who aspire to be among the next generation of independent college and university presidents. A new CIC report, The Independent College Presidency: 1986–2016, provides the latest insights into the characteristics of these presidents.

Published in August 2018, this is the third CIC report based on data from the American Council on Education’s (ACE) American College President Study (ACPS). The principal author is Barbara Hetrick, CIC senior advisor, evaluator of CIC’s Securing America’s Future Workshops, and former CIC senior vice president.

CIC is primarily interested in understanding independent college presidents—their demographic characteristics, career paths and future plans, the satisfactions and frustrations of their role, how well they believe they were prepared for various responsibilities of their office, and how they envision the future of independent higher education and the presidency. One way to gain further insight into the CIC presidency is to compare CIC presidents with presidents of other types of institutions. To that end, the study frequently identifies how CIC presidents resemble or differ from presidents in other sectors: private or public doctoral research institutions, public two-year institutions, and public nondoctoral institutions. The report also compares the 2016 responses with those from earlier surveys to examine trends.

Based on the findings of this study, the average president of a CIC institution is a white male slightly older than 61 years of age who is married, has earned a doctoral degree, and has been in his current presidency for six and one-half years. The typical president in 2016 differs little from the portrait painted in previous reports dating back to 2012 and 2009. In 2009, the presidents studied averaged 59 years of age and also were white, male, and married. Looking at 2016, CIC presidents were younger and had served in their positions longer on average than presidents at other types of institutions.


Immediate Prior Position of CIC Presidents, 2006, 2011, and 2016

Bar graph of immediate prior position of CIC presidents grouped by year: 2006, 2011, and 2016 (link opens larger version of image in new window)
Source: The Independent College Presidency: 1986–2016. Council of Independent Colleges. 2018.

Among the new findings about presidential responsibilities are the following: Presidents in all sectors of higher education agreed that budgeting and financial management and fundraising issues occupy most of their time; of these responsibilities, CIC presidents most frequently indicated spending time on fundraising. Presidents of CIC colleges and universities, especially those who have been in office four or fewer years, indicated that they spent considerably more time on enrollment management than did presidents in other sectors of higher education.

CIC presidents are still most likely to be appointed from the ranks of provosts and chief academic officers (26 percent), but they also have been drawn from prior positions as senior officers in nonacademic positions (22 percent), other presidencies (19 percent), and from outside higher education (17 percent), a pattern that shows greater diversity of backgrounds than presidents of other types of institutions (see Figure on page 26). Significantly, female CIC presidents are much more likely to have followed the traditional path from chief academic officer to president. Few CIC presidents (20 percent) have been promoted from inside their institutions. And importantly for the future of CIC leadership, nearly half of CIC presidents (49 percent) expect to leave their current presidency by 2021.

Most CIC presidents reported that racial climate on campus is a higher priority in 2016 than three years earlier, that it is “important” or “very important” for them to make clear public statements demonstrating racial and gender equality as important college values, and that it is very important that faculty searches include a significant number of female candidates and racially diverse candidates. It is curious, however, that fewer than half (41 percent) of CIC presidents reported current special institutional initiatives to attract both women and faculty members of color, and 29 percent responded that they had no special initiatives intended to attract women candidates or candidates of color. Since this survey was conducted, however, greater attention has been paid to Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and other consciousness-raising initiatives.

The study’s findings have important implications for independent higher education. For example, smaller independent colleges that want to increase and broaden the pool of qualified candidates for presidencies, especially as the diversity of students continues to expand, should identify and prepare women candidates and candidates of color. Institutions also should recruit candidates from other than traditional backgrounds, including senior officers in nonacademic divisions of the academy and talented leaders outside higher education.

CIC President Richard Ekman remarked, “The report highlights a number of important positive findings as well as some challenges. One thing is clear: There must be continued emphasis on preparing future leaders to assume presidencies, drawing increasingly from women and minority candidates and from talented individuals with diverse institutional backgrounds and campus leadership roles.”

Finally, the report suggests that CIC’s leadership development programs that prepare individuals to pursue a presidency should consider addressing areas of responsibility for which current presidents felt unprepared in their first presidencies, such as technology planning. CIC hopes that the report will provide useful guidance on the role that CIC and other national organizations can continue to play in supporting effective and well-informed presidential leadership.

The report is available online.



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