The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) today released the first comprehensive examination of the characteristics, responsibilities, and career trajectories of chief academic officers of the nation’s small and mid-sized private, nonprofit colleges and universities. Among the noteworthy findings of this study:
- 96 percent of chief academic officers of CIC member colleges and universities report high levels of satisfaction in their positions;
- paradoxically, they have served on average only 4.3 years in their current CAO positions, half the average tenure of presidents; and
- fewer than one in four CIC CAOs say that they plan to seek a college presidency, a rate lower than CAOs serving in other types of institutions.
In announcing the report, CIC president Richard Ekman said, “CIC focuses on professional development for leaders of small and mid-sized private colleges and universities. Recent reports from college trustees and search consultants have pointed to smaller pools of highly qualified candidates for senior leadership positions. The findings of this study validate CIC’s efforts to expand formal leadership development programs for campus administrators and faculty leaders.”
Using data from a 2008 survey conducted by the American Council of Education, CIC analyzed responses from 1,140 chief academic officers, including 358 from CIC member colleges and universities. Comparisons were made with CAOs serving in other types of institutions, including public and private research universities, state-supported baccalaureate and master’s level institutions, and community colleges. The full report is available on CIC’s website at www.cic.edu/CAOReport
S. Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon College and a member of CIC’s Board of Directors, said, “Planning for leadership succession in liberal arts colleges and universities is a growing concern. This report helps us understand the dimensions of the issue and is highly suggestive of next steps.”
By examining the career paths of chief academic officers, the study found that CIC CAOs have more diverse professional backgrounds than their counterparts in other types of institutions. CIC CAOs are likely to come to their positions through service as faculty members or department heads, senior campus executives outside of academic affairs, or from positions outside of higher education.
The study also found that, when compared with CAOs in other institutional settings, chief academic officers of CIC colleges and universities are:
- Slightly younger, with an average age of 57, than CAOs of other four-year institutions; as likely to be female (38 percent) and less likely to be a person of color (9 percent);
- Less likely than CAOs in other four-year institutions to serve as “number two” executive below the president (66 percent) and more likely than other CAOs to serve as one of several vice presidents of equal authority (24 percent).
Additional key findings include:
- Despite their high levels of satisfaction, chief academic officers receive little formal professional development for their leadership roles. This is particularly true for CAOs of CIC colleges and universities, with fewer than 30 percent indicating that they participated in formal preparation programs prior to assuming their current CAO role.
- CAOs have the best working relationship with their presidents and their most challenging relationship with the faculty. Difficulties with the chief financial officer and other vice presidents also present challenging relationships.
- CIC CAOs indicate that they spend more time in hiring, promoting, and arranging the retirement of faculty members as well as on the curriculum and academic programs than CAOs of other four-year institutions. They are more likely than other CAOs to teach a course, but are less likely to have tenured faculty status in their present positions.
- For CAOs of CIC colleges and universities, top among the areas where further proficiency is needed include: fundraising, governing board relations, budget and financial management, and risk management, and legal issues.
The report’s findings suggest several conclusions and recommendations:
- Further research to understand the reasons for the relatively short tenure of chief academic officers is warranted.
- CAOs of CIC colleges and universities are typically within a decade or so of normal retirement age (mean of 56.5 years old), which suggests that continued attention to the leadership pipeline for senior administrators of colleges and universities will be necessary.
- Women and persons of color should be encouraged to participate in programs that prepare prospective senior campus leaders. Younger CAOs should be encouraged to participate in programs to prepare college presidents.
The American Academic Leadership Institute provided generous funding for this project and the American Council on Education provided access to data from its report, The CAO Census: A National Profile of Chief Academic Officers