ACE: ‘Significant Efforts’ Needed To Improve Diversity In College Presidency Ranks - Higher Education
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ACE: ‘Significant Efforts’ Needed To Improve Diversity In College Presidency Ranks

by Michelle J. Nealy

Last month, Dr. Elsa Murano became the first female and first Hispanic president of Texas A&M University, proof that the diversity of college presidents is changing. (See ‘A Chat With Elsa Murano’

With women constituting 23 percent of the nation’s college and university presidencies, there are more women at the helm than ever before. Still, college presidents of color lag behind and may continue to do so in the near future.

According to a report released Thursday by the American Council on Education, “On the Pathway to the Presidency: Characteristics of Higher Education’s Senior Leadership,” minorities constitute just 14 percent of college president positions.

Over the last two decades the number of African American college presidents increased by less than 1 percent compared with 2 percent for Hispanic presidents. There was no increase in the number of Asian American college presidents.

“This study suggest that colleges and universities must not only tap into the existing pool of qualified women in order to create greater gender diversity at the presidential level, but that much more significant efforts are necessary to create greater racial and ethnic diversity among presidents,” said Jacqueline E. King, assistant vice president of the Center Policy at ACE and co-author of the study.

Nearly half of all college presidents are 61 and older, and researchers expect a dramatic wave of retirement to take place in the next few years, presenting a unique opportunity for people of color in leadership positions.  Dartmouth College’s president of 10 years James Wright will retire next year as will Virginia Wesleyan’s William T. Greer and others, paving the way for a new guard of leadership.

The report notes that the share of minorities serving in senior leadership roles mirrors their proportion among senior faculty, suggesting that efforts to create greater racial diversity among presidents must began with faculty recruitment and retention.

Sixty-one percent of presidents come from senior administrative positions within higher education. These senior leaders are, as a group, younger than presidents and more likely to be women. Currently, only 16 percent of all senior campus administrators are people of color compared to 45 percent of women.

“The higher education community must develop more comprehensive talent management strategies to increase the diversity of college and university workforce, particularly at the senior leadership level,” said Andy Brantly, chief executive officer of College and University Professional Association of Human Resources, the organization that co-sponsored the study.

Expanding the number of minority college presidents will likely require increasing the number of people entering faculty positions.

Researchers say small but significant pools of potential candidates exist among Asian Americans at doctoral-granting institutions, African Americans at master’s and baccalaureate institutions, and Hispanics at community colleges.

“We must continue to see an increase of minority representation at doctoral-granting institutions and at institutions of all types,” said Brantley.

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