Next Generation President

Report examines demographics of those holding jobs that frequently lead to chief positions on campuses, and finds more women, but a largely white pool.
February 7, 2008

Some high profile appointments -- most notably Drew Faust at Harvard University last year -- have created a sense that the college and university presidency is diversifying. Actually, while the numbers of women leading campuses have been increasing, the rate of growth has slowed, and the increases for non-white presidents have become minimal. In fact, the most dramatic change among college presidents in recent years may not be increased diversity, but increased longevity in office.

Since that means presidents are increasingly likely to be hitting retirement years, two higher education groups wanted to check out the demographics of the people likely to be in the next generation of presidents -- those serving as provosts and in other positions that are frequently held immediately prior to a presidency. The results -- released Wednesday by the American Council on Education and the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources -- found that these higher education employees are more likely than those in the presidential suite to be female, but are not likely to be much more diverse in other ways.

As a result, the two groups are planning new campaigns to get more minority candidates into presidential pools. The data released Wednesday illustrate, officials said, why more ambitious efforts are needed if academics expect to see more diversity in the upper ranks of college administration.

To start, here are the demographics for college presidents in 2006 and a comparison from 20 years earlier. While the comparison suggests substantial progress, most of that took place early in the 20 years, and diversification has been more minimal recently.

Demographics of College Presidents, 2006 and 1986

Demographic characteristic 2006 1986
Women 23.0% 9.5%
Black 5.9% 5.0%
Hispanic 4.6% 2.2%
Asian American 0.9% 0.4%
American Indian 0.7% 0.5%
Other or multiple race 1.5% na
All minority 13.6% 8.1%
Age 50 or younger 8.1% 41.6%
Age 51-60 42.6% 44.4%
Age 61 or older 49.3% 13.9%
Average years in position 8.5 6.3

A report on the data, "On the Pathway to the Presidency: Characteristics of Higher Education's Senior Leadership," notes that the advancing age and longer tenures of current presidents "may present an opportunity" to diversify the presidency in the years ahead, as more presidents retire.

But as Jacqueline E. King, assistant vice president of the American Council on Education, noted in a press briefing, that is only the case if those preparing to move into presidencies are younger than current presidents and more diverse. The first bit of good news, King said, is that those in the positions that are feeder positions for presidencies are in fact younger -- so there will be someone to take over. But on the question of whether the next generation will be more diverse, she said the answer was "Yes, with respect to gender."

The most common position from which people move to a presidency is provost/chief academic officer, but there are a number of others that also result in promotions to the top job (typically somewhere else). The ACE and CUPA-HR gathered data nationally to examine the diversity of this next presumed generation of presidential talent. The officials who prepared the study say that they believe it provides the fullest picture to date of the diversity (or lack thereof) in those who not only may become presidents, but who play key campus roles in their current positions. (In terms of sectors, community colleges were generally more diverse and research universities were a little less diverse. Across sectors, the position of chief diversity officer adds diversity to the upper ranks of administration.)

Demographics of Senior Administrators

  Executive vice president Provost / chief academic officer Dean of academic college Senior external affairs officer Chief student affairs officer Chief diversity officer Total
--White 79.8% 90.5% 85.8% 89.8% 79.7% 17.6% 84.2%
--Black 12.3% 5.0% 7.2% 5.4% 13.3% 59.0% 9.3%
--Asian American 1.9% 1.9% 2.8% 0.3% 0.8% 4.5% 1.6%
--American Indian 0.0% 0.2% 0.5% 0.2% 0.4% 3.9% 0.4%
--Hispanic 6.0% 2.4% 2.4% 4.1% 5.4% 13.2% 4.0%
--Other 0.0% 0.0% 1.3% 0.2% 0.3% 1.7% 0.5%
--Female 31.0% 38.0% 35.5% 49.1% 45.4% 55.6% 44.6%
--Male 69.0% 62.0% 64.5% 50.9% 54.6% 44.4% 55.4%
--50 or younger 13.1% 19.4% 25.8% 44.0% 45.1% 50.5% 34.0%
--51-60 66.4% 51.8% 50.2% 41.3% 42.8% 34.7% 46.9%
--61 or older 20.5% 28.8% 24.0% 14.7% 12.1% 14.8% 19.1%

Andy Brantley, CEO of CUPA-HR, said he viewed the data as "a call to action" for higher education. Without diversifying the people in these senior jobs, he said, pools for presidential picks will be too homogeneous. Brantley also said it was important for colleges to consider succession planning for presidents -- as opposed to just assuming the choice would be an outside candidate. With succession planning, he said, presidents and institutions can reach out to those with potential for senior positions and groom them to take over later.

James C. Renick, senior vice president of the ACE, said that while the data show "some progress," that progress has been "slower than many of us had assumed" would take place.

A major part of the new effort would be to educate trustees and search committee members on ways "to be inclusive" so that pools include people from a variety of backgrounds.

Many search firms and trustees have reported increased interest by presidential search committees in hiring people who are already sitting presidents. While this trend arguably has its limits (age will catch up with sitting presidents, after all), it isn't adding to the diversity of presidencies, since sitting presidents aren't that diverse.

Renick said that he hoped the new efforts would address the issue of "serial presidencies" and that this would have to happen through reaching out to trustees. The preferences of board members are "a very real issue," he said. "We're going to have to be able to make a dent in board thinking."


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