New Generation of Presidents Needed

The current generation of chancellors and presidents in higher education will be retiring at a faster rate than customary recruitment can replace, according to media and educational sources.

This phenomenon will require new modes of thought and strategies in grooming leaders of tomorrow. That’s one of the recommendations from the Aspen Institute, in their latest report. The press release will be included at the end of this post, and please have a look at the full document, available here from Inside Higher Ed.

The report is the result of input from a panel of practitioners at colleges and universities around the country. Several community college leaders were in the group. This is significant, since one can easily argue that the role of a community college president or chancellor is different from the same job at a liberal arts college or state university. At the latter, for instance, regents are appointed by the governor, whereas trustees at a two-year college are elected. This relationship inevitably changes the dynamic. There are many other differences.

You will find plenty to ponder in the report. Not surprisingly, the document emphasizes the ability and willingness of prospective leaders to listen to various stakeholders on campus and in the community. There is no cookie-cutter for a skilled administrator, as the authors admit willingly. Leaders in ethnic minorities are underrepresented presently in top positions, also drawing the attention of the group.

As an incidental suggestion, a couple of stakeholder categories might be particularly valuable sources of information for leaders to consult on campus.

First is students who are in developmental education. Top community college administrators often participate in meetings with student leaders, officers in organizations, and, of course, Phi Theta Kappa. However, by definition, these students are exceptional achievers. Students in developmental math, for instance, represent the real challenges and opportunities for the current and next generation. Developmental students are hardly homogeneous, but a typical remedial class will contain the young and old, and a sample of the at-risk profile.

Another category worthy of consultation is adjunct faculty members. Likewise here you will find a great deal of variety, but these teachers are easily bifurcated by those who care about pay and benefits, and those who don’t. Either way, they should be listened to, even if informally. Part-time instructors teach the vast majority of classes at some schools. They are worthy of consultation, even if there are practical difficulties of arranging face-to-face meetings.

Below is the press release from the Aspen Institute:


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Tania LaViolet, 202-736-5815 | Tania.LaViolet@aspeninstitute.org
Bridget DeSimone, 301-280-5735 | BDeSimone@burness.com


Panel cites urgent need and provides recommendations for overhaul of presidential job description, new hiring practices, and year-one induction plan in light of changing student demographics, advancing technology, and public concerns over college costs

Washington, D.C. (May 15, 2017)—A national panel of 35 college and university presidents today called for a new generation of peers to have deeper and broader skill sets than ever before because “the demands of the college presidency are more complex than ever.” Following a year of deliberation, the Aspen Institute Task Force on the Future of the College Presidency argues that an emphasis on scholarship and ability to raise funds are necessary but not sufficient for a 21st century college or university president. “Above all,” they said, “the next generation of presidents needs the skills to lead and manage change effectively.”

Today’s report is particularly significant because Task Force members come from a notably wide variety of higher education institutions—representing small, large, public, private, rural, and urban community colleges and four-year institutions. Across these incredibly varied institutions, presidents raised the challenges that had much more in common than expected. “America’s colleges and universities and their presidents are facing more challenges than ever—especially in light of dramatic political, demographic, and technological changes,” noted Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “The next generation of leaders will need increasing preparation and support to succeed.”

Notable in the Task Force deliberations was recognition that a set of what the report calls “enduring skills” are still necessary for presidents’ success but increasingly insufficient. “For two generations, college leaders have been builders, mandated to build the enrollment, build the campuses, build the athletic program, build the endowment, and build the reputation, said Valencia (community) College President Sandy Shugart. “What the field needs now, what our institutions need, is leadership for impact. This requires a different orientation, a different set of gifts, and a willingness to stand creatively in the tension between institutional and societal interests. The conversations contained in this paper are a good indication that this new kind of leadership is already beginning to take shape.”

The Task Force report, called Renewal and Progress: Strengthening Higher Education Leadership in a Time of Rapid Change, says that three trends suggest the need for immediate action:

  • Enormous turnover of college presidents and senior leaders resulting from a wave of retirements;
  • A shrinking pool of people interested in the presidency who hold positions that traditionally precede the presidency; and
  • Inadequate systems for preparing diverse and non-traditional candidates for the presidency.

In citing urgency to act, they noted that inaction will “leave higher education incapable of delivering quality in the face of demographic, political and economic pressures.”

They said that presidents of the future may require a set of skills pioneered in other enterprises to achieve needed change, use of new technologies to create value for the students and communities they serve, and articulation of a new and compelling vision to the public whose support they will require. New skills will be required to achieve these results, such as communications skills that must evolve with new forms and changing uses of social media. Fiscal planning, budgeting, and revenue-raising capacities must also evolve with shifts in revenue streams.

Finding those skills—the Task Force concluded—will not be possible unless the pipeline to the presidency itself is expanded. “The Aspen Institute’s report lays out the significant challenges we face in today’s college presidency,” said Dianne F. Harrison, President of California State University, Northridge, “while at the same time demonstrating that the integration of these challenges necessitates expanding the presidential pipeline to include greater diversity of talented individuals in order to strengthen the college presidency for the 21st century preparation of both presidents and students.”

Specifically, the group recommends that everyone engaged with colleges and their leadership focus on three areas to meet the challenge:

  • Expand and improve the professional development and peer learning opportunities for new and veteran presidents. Regardless of the breadth of professional experience one has prior to entering a presidency, few enter the role prepared for its complexities. The report calls for greater attention to intentional “onboarding” of new presidents, as well as additional learning opportunities in important emerging areas such as digital learning, predictive analytics, and social media. It also provides a model one-year induction process for new college and university presidents.
  • Provide boards of trustees with greater and more assistance to set institutional goals, and to hire, support, and work with presidents. Citing the lack of preparedness of some boards to set direction and identify and support highly effective presidents, the report calls for proactive and consistent coaching for trustees to better inform their decision-making with these college and university leaders.
  • Advance new and expanded ways to identify and develop a diverse presidential talent pool. The traditional academic pathway to the presidency includes too few senior leaders who aspire to the position, too few woman and people of color, and not enough opportunities for non-traditional candidates. The report calls on all presidents to identify and mentor two to three people with exceptional promise to lead colleges and universities. Further, nonprofits and associations are encouraged to build programs to expose nontraditional candidates to service and leadership positions at higher education institutions, with the expectation that some will emerge as attractive candidates for presidencies.

From the 35 college presidents on the panel, four were “sectoral” leaders, convening their colleagues for this project: for community colleges, Sandy Shugart of Valencia College in Florida; for liberal arts colleges, Dan Porterfield of Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania; for regional public universities, Dianne Harrison of California State University-Northridge; and, for research universities, Freeman Hrabowski of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The Task Force report was funded by a generous grant from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.


The Aspen College Excellence Program aims to identify and replicate practices, policies and leadership that significantly improve college outcomes. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org/cep. The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org