Quick wins is the new mantra on college presidents' minds

College and university presidents feel pressure to prove their value quickly through early accomplishments that are relatively narrow in scope, according to a report by Georgia Tech's Center for 21st Century Universities and Deloitte's Center for Higher Education. 

Researchers received responses from 165 presidents of four-year colleges, 112 of which were private institutions and 51 of which were public institutions. Researchers combined this information with a curriculum vitae analysis of 840 presidents based on institutional websites and other sources. Presidents and trustees were also interviewed anonymously.

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Among other findings, researchers found that college presidents have a strong desire for quick wins that result in publicity or an increase in rankings for their institution. This is consistent with findings that college and university presidents are also serving shorter terms, sometimes involuntarily.

One president shared anonymously with the report's authors that "Presidents approach their job with the expectation that they'll be judged on what they can finish. They think, 'I'll only be here five years, so I should only focus on what I can do in that time before I move on.'"

Those concerns were echoed by Jeff Selingo, one of the authors of the report and a visiting scholar at the Center, as well as a professor of practice at Arizona State University. "They're not thinking about the long term," he said.

The report suggests that change will need to come from board members. The authors not only encourage boards to focus on long-term goals, but also to stick with the president through controversies rather than quickly looking for a new hire (Toppo, USA Today, 4/19; Deloitte/Georgia Tech study, accessed 4/26; Seltzer, Inside Higher Ed, 4/19).

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