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Catholic College and University Leadership for a Changing Landscape


Building on the success of a long-running summer institute, Boston College launches a program designed to equip Catholic campus leaders for the era of disruption

By Michael James


More than two decades ago, in response to the need for Catholic college and university leadership equipped to successfully navigate a changing higher education landscape, Boston College developed a summer workshop aimed at honing the skills of Catholic campus leaders. Every year since then, the college has hosted — in collaboration with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities — the Institute for Administrators in Catholic Higher Education. Now, as times and needs have changed, the college is continuing to adapt.

Each July, the Institute hosts a weeklong seminar providing a singular opportunity for administrators and leaders at Catholic colleges and universities around the globe to interact with some of the nation’s most outstanding scholars and practitioners as they address issues that Catholic higher education faces on a daily basis. The Institute is designed to serve administrative leaders such as presidents, provosts, vice presidents, deans, mission officers, major program directors, and others in positions responsible for institutional mission and identity. The questions that inform the Institute dynamics and dialogue include: Gasson-Hall-Boston-College

  • What does it mean to be a Catholic college or university in the 21st century?
  • How do we animate a Catholic campus culture?
  • What role does the Catholic Intellectual Tradition play to inform curriculum and intellectual life?
  • What defines the nature of the relationships and the appropriate practices between institutions of Catholic higher education and the Church?
  • What are the implications of increased lay leadership in Catholic colleges and universities?
  • How does Catholic social and moral teaching inform campus culture, policies, and curriculum?
  • How do we assess the mission?


Over the last 20 years, the Institute has attracted over 700 administrators from Catholic colleges and universities across the United States, Ireland, Australia, Central and South America, Belize, Canada, Taiwan, Ghana, Guatemala, the Philippines, Haiti, and South Africa. The success of the Institute is measured by the success of Catholic higher education leaders in advancing the mission of Catholic colleges and universities in an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace and in engaging the resources of Catholic college and universities to address with increasingly complex engagement a world in need of faith, hope, charity, and love.


Changing with the Times

A recent survey of past Institute participants indicated that the most important take-aways from the program experience include the development of new skills, access to new resources, and engagement with data-driven knowledge. The survey also revealed a need for and strong interest by participants in continued professional development and access to further skills, resources, and knowledge.

In response to the need for a robust and comprehensive professional development program, Boston College recently added to its offerings, launching an Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education with a concentration in Catholic higher education. The first course with the inaugural cohort began in May 2021. The doctoral program aims to develop justice-minded leaders with the skills, mindsets, and technical knowledge to match the changing pace of higher education. The innovative, data-informed curriculum emphasizes socially just leadership that is transformational, mission-driven, and focuses on iterative design-thinking, which equips graduates with the skills and agility to effect lasting change.


The doctoral program aims to develop justice-minded leaders with the skills, mindsets, and technical knowledge to match the changing pace of higher education.


Stanton E.F. Wortham, the Charles F. Donovan, SJ Dean, Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College, described the new program as a critical resource “in an era of increased disruption and rapid change.” Wortham further reflected, “Higher education needs a new kind of leadership. This program will help participants reimagine institutions, execute difficult decisions, discern whether traditional ways of doing business are still relevant, and attend to issues of justice and purpose.”

As an extension of Boston College's scholarship in Catholic education, students have the option to pursue a concentration in Catholic higher education — currently the only graduate program with this unique degree concentration in the United States. The program also leverages the resources of the Lynch School's prestigious Center for International Higher Education to integrate course topics into the global higher education context.

Designed for active administrators with a minimum of 5-10 years of experience in higher education, this part-time, three-year program pairs online coursework during the academic year with in-person weeklong summer residencies. The program culminates in a practice-based capstone project that integrates content across the curriculum.

For those pursuing the concentration in Catholic higher education, the program learning outcomes including being able to articulate, strategically animate, and assess the essential characteristics of a vibrant Catholic college and university in the 21st century; lead change and innovation in higher education through the effective mobilization of physical, financial, technological, and human resources; and develop a learner-centered, whole-person mindset that advances diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.

Our hope is that together, the Institute and the new executive program will help transform the next generation of Catholic college and university administrators, ready and able to effect positive change. The last 18 months have starkly demonstrated that we live in an era of disruption and one greatly in need of justice-minded leadership. Rigorously trained campus administrators can move the entire sector forward in the right direction.


Michael James is director of the Institute for Administrators in Catholic Higher Education, which will return in July 2022. James is also the faculty advisor for the Ed.D. concentration in Catholic higher education at Boston College. For additional information about either program, contact him at


Photo courtesy of Boston College/Gary Wayne Gilbert.