Pathways to the university president: the future of higher education leadership

The role of the college president has no analog in the modern business world. It is accountable to a dizzying array of stakeholders and constituents, on campus (students, faculty, and administrative staff) and off; parents who are hyperinvolved in every aspect of their child’s experience; community leaders seeking to influence the university’s role in town; alumni who want to maintain the experience they had as students; and, in the case of public institutions, political leaders who demand greater accountability even in the face of dwindling state support.

The job requires administrative and financial acumen, fundraising ability, and political deftness. Presidents must be accessible and responsive but also measured and restrained in an era driven by 24/7 news coverage and the inflammatory nature of social media. They often need to balance the pressures of society to improve the "return on investment" of education at their institution as well as manage the pressure from community and political leaders around critical issues such as sexual assault and legalized guns on campus. Presidents must chart a difficult path with their academic deans, providing incentives for individual schools to excel and grow while fostering collaboration and cooperation with each another to drive the overall health of the academy.

The range of leadership skills with which they surround themselves is vast—athletics, academics, finances, marketing, fundraising, and research to name just a few, all housed within a model of shared governance that could drive almost any traditional business leader to distraction.

In this look at the college president, we examine what it’s taken to be effective and excel in the role today, and how the dynamics of higher education in America are driving a new set of skills and capabilities for tomorrow’s leaders. Deloitte’s Center for Higher Education Excellence, working in partnership with Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities, conducted this study through a combination of an extensive survey, in-depth interviews, and the first-ever analysis of presidential CVs. 
Read the full report here.

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