Study of Presidents of Independent Colleges

CIC’s report, A Study of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities, analyzes the demographic characteristics of CIC college and university presidents, their duties and responsibilities, satisfaction and frustrations in their work, and career paths and plans. The report also examines the presidential search process and conditions of employment. Comparisons were made with presidents of other types of institutions.

The report uses data from the 2011 American Council on Education’s American College President Study (ACPS). To determine if important differences existed among presidents of different types of institutions, CIC compared presidents of its member institutions with presidents of four major groups: public two-year or community colleges; public baccalaureate and master’s-level institutions; public doctoral, or research, universities; and private doctoral universities. Furthermore, to note changes over time, CIC compared the 2011 responses of presidents with those given to similar questions posed by the ACPS surveys in 1986, 1995, and 2006.

 Key Findings

Overall, the presidents of the smaller and mid-sized, independent, liberal arts-oriented colleges and universities that comprise CIC’s members are younger, more satisfied, have more diverse career backgrounds, and have served longer in their present positions than their counterparts in other kinds of institutions.

Among the main findings of the report are:
  • Nearly every CIC president is very satisfied or somewhat satisfied in her or his job. The level of those who are very satisfied (86 percent) is higher than the presidents of public institutions.
  • Although the average age of all college and university presidents in the United States continues to climb, CIC presidents remain the youngest group among presidents of four-year colleges and universities at an average of 60.3 years of age.
  • The average length of appointment for a CIC president has declined from 8.5 years in 2006 to 7.1 years in 2011, yet CIC presidents’ appointment length still ranks highest among presidents of all types of institutions. 
  • The proportion of women CIC presidents has remained the same since 2006 at 25 percent, while the share of women presidents in other types of institutions increased.
  • The level of minority presidents among CIC institutions declined from 8 percent in 2006 to 6 percent in 2011, a level that is one-half to one-third of that at public institutions.
  • Most CIC presidents have earned doctorates (80 percent); and the most common field of study is education or higher education (31 percent) followed by the humanities or fine arts (21 percent). Compared with all types of four-year institutions, CIC presidents are the most likely to have the highest earned degrees in one of these fields.
  • The position of chief academic officer (CAO) continues to be the most common route taken to the ranks of president. The proportion of CIC presidents that were CAOs in their most recent positions has risen from 27 percent in 2006 to 29 percent in 2011, although this is a lower rate than among presidents in other institutional settings.
  • The three most time-consuming duties of CIC presidents are fundraising, budget and financial management, and enrollment management. Newer presidents—those who have served four years or fewer—also cite strategic planning as an activity consuming considerable time.

Several recommendations are included in the report:
  1. Institutions and CIC should place continued emphasis on preparing future leaders to assume presidencies. With nearly half of CIC presidents planning to leave their posts in the next five years, the pipeline needs to expand rapidly.

  2. CIC and institutions should pay special attention to preparing women and persons of color who aspire to the presidency.

  3. Programs to prepare aspiring leaders for the presidency and to orient new presidents to their roles should include technology planning, risk management and legal issues, and enrollment management, along with the more traditional topics of fundraising, board relations, and fiscal management.

  4. More needs to be known about the reasons for the decline in the longevity of presidencies. Is the recent downward turn mainly due to the retirement of older presidents? Or is the change due to other factors, such as increased friction with the governing board or the faculty? A study of the factors leading to presidential departures would be instructive.

  5. Although conflicting perspectives of the president and the faculty may appear to be unavoidable, a better understanding of these tensions may lead to new approaches that improve collaboration in the shared governance of the relatively small academic communities of CIC colleges and universities.

 Contact Information

​For questions about the Study of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities, please contact CIC Senior Vice President Harold V. Hartley III at or (202) 466-7230.