US study highlights need for wider leadership pool

March 22, 2012

Meet your average American college president: he's a 61-year-old married white man who has been in his current role for seven years and boasts a doctorate in education.

This profile, from the American Council on Education (Ace) study The American College President 2012, highlights one of the US sector's growing concerns: the rising average age of its leadership cohort.

Bryan J. Cook, director of the council's Center for Policy Analysis, said it could soon lead to problems for the academy.

"The anticipated wave of retirements among college and university presidents is of great concern and may present challenges or even a temporary leadership shortage," he said.

Despite this, Dr Cook added that the imminent loss of many presidents would present "a unique opportunity to diversify the leadership of American higher education".

The report found that the proportion of female presidents in the sector had risen slightly since 2006, from 23 per cent to 26 per cent.

However, the percentage of leaders from ethnic and racial minorities declined slightly, from 14 per cent to 13 per cent.

This number fell to 9 per cent when institutions more explicitly directed towards minority populations were removed from the tally.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of Ace, said the findings should remind the sector about the importance of "developing a more diverse pool" of college leaders.

"Leadership that is not only effective but (also) reflective of the world around it will be key to managing the challenges of today and the unknown challenges of tomorrow," she said.

The study also found that the number of administrators and business people leading universities had risen significantly.

The proportion of presidents who had come to the role from outside academia rose from 13 per cent in 2006 to 20 per cent in 2011.

In addition, 30 per cent of presidents had never been an academic faculty member.

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