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Setting a longterm goal for your career in higher education? There’s no higher role to aim for than becoming a college president. College presidents set the tone and direction of their institutions through strategic vision and skilled leadership. To become a college president is to become an influence on the careers of your staff, the lives of your students, and the wellbeing of the community your college serves.
This article, presented by Gwynedd Mercy University, offers an overview of how to become a university or college president and addresses the following questions:
A university president is the chief executive officer of a college or university. She or he enacts the decisions of the university’s board of trustees, assigning goals and delegating tasks to other administrators at the university, including academic or administrative deans, the college’s provost (chief academic officer), and others.
The duties of a college president fall under three main categories: leadership, planning, and fundraising. At a more granular level, these duties can include:
To become a college president, candidates need to combine a deep understanding of academia with the capabilities and energy of a CEO. This requires personal qualities and administrative skills honed to a high level. These can include:
College presidents are seasoned, highly expert administrators. They may come from inside or outside academia — former Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels, for example, is serving as president of Purdue University — but they should possess considerable experience in executive leadership before they take on the challenges that come with leading a complex institution such as a college or university.
According to the American Council on Education, “In addition to the management and oversight of loosely coupled and hierarchical organizations, campuses need a leader who can manage a crisis, identify opportunities, and get things done.”1 These are not requirements typically available to early-career professionals or those without executive experience.
Whether you are starting out as a faculty member or as a junior administrator in, say, student affairs, your immediate goal should be to move higher up the administrative chain. Become involved with committees, apply for department chair, associate dean or associate provost roles, and build leadership experience step by step.
Develop your networking skills, not just your career networking skills, but your community networking skills. Reach out to business leaders or peers at other institutions who work in fields related to your current position and learn about what they need from a college. Listen to students about what they hope their education will offer them. Find creative ways to collaborate. These are skills that will serve you well in higher education administration later.
If you are coming from a purely academic background — or if you have been leading in another industry — you will need specialized skills and knowledge for effective educational leadership. Earning your Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership is excellent preparation for the demands and challenges of becoming a college president.
GMercyU’s Ed.D. program features flexible online study, plus comprehensive course content that covers operational leadership, strategic leadership, data analytics, community engagement and much more. It also provides support towards successfully completing your dissertation, a critical step to attaining the degree.
Once you have earned your Ed.D., you should be ready to move into senior administration. This can mean moving up to the provost role first — success in the role of chief academic officer is a good stepping-stone to the presidency — or acting in another leadership position, such as a vice-presidency.
Once you have established your track record at the senior level, you’re ready to begin putting yourself forward to search committees who are looking for their next college president.
Get on the path to becoming a transformational leader in higher education in as few as three years of study. Find out about the Accelerated Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership at GMercyU today!