Study of Presidential Career Patterns

CIC’s report, “A Study of Career Patterns of the Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities,” examines the various career routes and other characteristics of first-time presidents. Using data from the American Council on Education’s American College President Study, CIC analyzed the career pathways; demographic characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, and age; major field of study; and sense of readiness for various presidential responsibilities of first-time American college and university presidents from 1986 to 2006. Comparisons were made between first-time presidents of CIC member institutions and presidents of four major sub-sectors: public baccalaureate and master’s level institutions, private doctoral universities, public doctoral universities, and public two-year colleges.
With a better understanding of the career patterns and characteristics of member presidents, CIC is adding to its leadership development programs for senior administrators of small and mid-sized private colleges and universities. Given the “graying” of the presidency (nearly half of all CIC presidents are over the age of 60), it is highly likely that in the next ten years a significant number of member presidents will retire. At the same time, many executive search consultants have reported that the typical search for a college president attracts fewer candidates—and fewer well-qualified candidates—than was the case a decade ago. Through a greater understanding of the career patterns and characteristics of college presidents, CIC aims to strengthen the preparation of tomorrow’s college and university presidents.
CIC is grateful to the American Council on Education for providing access to data from the American College President Study.
Funder: American Academic Leadership Institute and Academic Search, Inc.

 Key Findings

Some of the key findings of the comparisons of first-time presidents of CIC member colleges and universities with their counterparts in other institutional groupings include:
  • Immediate Prior Position. First-time CIC presidents were less likely to have been a chief academic officer and more likely to have been a nonacademic officer or to have come from outside higher education.

  • Major Field of Study. A larger proportion of first-time CIC presidents earned their highest degree in the humanities and fine arts; an even larger proportion, however, earned their highest degree in education/higher education—highest among presidents of four-year institutions.

  • Demographic Characteristics. First-time presidents of CIC member colleges and universities were slightly younger (average age of 59), more likely to be female (28 percent), and less likely to be a person of color (8 percent) than their counterparts in other four-year institutional settings.

  • Preparation for Presidential Responsibilities. CIC first-time presidents felt insufficiently prepared for the following duties (in descending order):
    • Fundraising
    • Risk management and legal issues
    • Capital improvement projects
    • Budget and financial management
    • Entrepreneurial ventures

Download a PDF of the full study


 Contact Information

​For questions about the Study of Presidential Career Patterns, contact CIC Senior Vice President Harold V. Hartley III at or (202) 466-7230.