A Study of Chief Academic Officers of Independent Colleges and Universities

Study of Chief Academic Officers report cover

​Chief academic officers (CAOs) of independent colleges and universities are the principal leaders and managers of the academic programs of the institutions they serve. The core functions of higher education—teaching students, conducting scholarly research, and service to the academic community—usually fall under their purview. In many cases, CAOs serve as the second executive leader of the institution, behind the president, often with oversight of institutional operations beyond the academic program. Despite these important responsibilities, few comprehensive studies have been conducted to examine the characteristics and duties of CAOs, and of these studies, none has focused on the CAOs of the nation’s small and mid-sized private colleges and universities.

Since 2008, the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) has pursued a research agenda to support professional development for leaders of small and mid-sized private colleges and universities. An initial report, A Study of Career Patterns of the Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities (Hartley and Godin, 2009), examined the various career routes and characteristics of first-time presidents. Given the earlier finding that presidents of CIC colleges and universities are less likely to have been CAOs than their presidential colleagues serving in other types of institutions and the concern among trustees and search consultants about an inadequate pool of qualified candidates for presidential vacancies, CIC became particularly interested in the aspirations of CAOs to the college presidency. The Council of Independent Colleges is grateful to the American Academic Leadership Institute (AALI) for support of this research project and to the American Council on Education (ACE) for providing access to data from ACE’s census of chief academic officers (Eckel, Cook, and King, 2009).

The purpose of this study is to understand the characteristics, roles, and career aspirations of chief academic officers of CIC member colleges and universities. Who are these chief academic leaders? What career paths did they follow to reach their senior leadership positions? What are their duties and responsibilities? What further professional aspirations do they have? And, do substantive differences exist between the CAOs of independent colleges and those serving in other higher education settings? Responses from 1,140 chief academic officers to the ACE survey conducted in 2008 were analyzed, including 358 CIC CAOs. Specifically, comparisons were made between CAOs of CIC member colleges and universities and CAOs of four major sub-sector groups: (1) public baccalaureate and master’s (BA/MA) level institutions, (2) private doctoral universities, (3) public doctoral universities, and (4) public two-year colleges.

​Council of Independent Colleges
By Harold V. Hartley III and Eric E. Godin
July 2010