Discovering Our Current Leaders
A review of the current profiles of ACCU member presidential cohort
By Rebecca Sawyer
Each year, ACCU looks at the profile of our current presidential cohort. Over the past two years there has been significant changes to who is leading our colleges and universities, some continuing trends we have been tracking for several years, and others that are new.
The current breakdown in terms of gender is 67% male and 33% female. Catholic higher education has long been a national leader with female presidents, and although the percentage is declining (compared to 38% in 2018), Catholic colleges and universities still employ a larger number of female presidents than non-Catholics colleges.
Lay leadership continues to increase at Catholic institutions with 77% of this year’s cohort serving as non-religious. Of the 23% of presidents who are religious, 16% are male and 7% are female. The decline in female religious presidents has led to changes in sponsorship models to carry on the founding charism of the college or university.
The role of the Catholic college or university president is changing, as are those who pursue the top leadership position.
The average tenure of Catholic higher education presidents also decreased slightly from seven to six years but seems to be following the trend of presidents across all private institutions. In the current cohort, only nine presidents have been in their positions for 20 or more years. The percentage of presidents who have been in their position for 5 years or less is more than half of all ACCU member institutions at 61%. To date, in 2021, there have been 29 presidential turnovers.
While it is becoming increasingly common for presidents to hold doctoral degrees other than a Ph.D, 65% of this year’s cohort hold that credential. 11% have an Ed.D and 12% hold an MBA. The most significant difference is in the number of presidents holding a J.D., which increased from 10.5% to 14% of this year’s cohort.
Prior to becoming president, almost a quarter of Catholic higher education presidents served as president at another university. This has increased from 18% in 2018 to 24% this year. Most often, presidents are coming from positions held in Academic Affairs (41%), with law school positions (10%) and Student Affairs (6%) or other administrative positions (8%) as the next common paths to the presidency. Less often presidents have worked directly prior in the areas of Enrollment (2%), Advancement (4%) and finance (3%).
The role of the Catholic college or university president is changing, as are those who pursue the top leadership position. Overall, Catholic higher education continues to see fewer religious leaders from more diverse backgrounds and experiences. With this changing landscape, ACCU is committed to providing our leaders with resources to be successful in leading their Catholic college or university.
Rebecca Sawyer is Vice President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.