How the Pathway to the College Presidency is Changing

Leadership in higher education can be a challenge, but aspiring college presidents aren’t letting obstacles get in their way when it comes to assuming the reins of a university.

At one time, the traditional trajectory to the college presidency was to become a dean and then a provost, among other roles.

Now, however, the pathway to the college presidency is changing.

The Office of Provost

College deans today have discovered that they no longer must include a term as provost to secure the top position in a college or university. Many deans are making the transition to the president’s office without having ever been a provost.

A globalized community and integrated technologies have made campus leadership more dynamic. As a result, colleges have discovered that there’s more than one way to acquire the experience necessary for higher education leadership.

Interestingly, more men than women skip the position of provost before becoming a college president. Nowhere is this truer than at smaller colleges and universities.

Talent Incubators

You may be wondering where to go for the experience you need. A handful of universities in the country will prepare you with the hands-on experience you need, although it won’t come from the provost’s office. Some of them include:

  • Arizona State University
  • Brown University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Georgia State University
  • Harvard University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Yale University

Bringing Business Acumen

Colleges and universities are also looking beyond the ivory tower for their next presidents. Leaders with business backgrounds lend a different skill set to the job than academic candidates. Non-traditional college leaders with a business background have a different perspective on the role and can lead the campus in the right direction.

According to the Education Advisory Board (EAB), non-traditional business leaders

  • Have skills that apply in a variety of situations,
  • Demonstrate excellent communication skills, and
  • Are engaged with the community.

They bring fresh eyes to the challenges the school has been facing.

As the role of the university president continues to change, the pathway to landing this position is changing, too. Provosts tend to turn their immediate attention inward to the campus, faculty, and students, whereas presidents look out to the horizon at what the future may hold for the school.

As the role of the president metamorphoses, the pathway to this position will continue to change.

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