Where are all the college presidents going?

In a recent article for Inside Higher Ed, Rick Seltzer gives an overview of the recent increase in presidential turnover. Here are 3 questions his article answers.

1. Why is everyone talking about presidential turnover now?

Summer is the traditional time for presidential transitions, but this year's departures have been more numerous and more sudden than in the past, Seltzer writes.

Presidential turnover has been on the rise for a couple of years now. But Seltzer argues that so far, this year's presidential transitions have stood out for several reasons, including frequency, swiftness, and profile of the presidents involved (many of whom have been relatively early in their careers or tenures).

2. How much is turnover really increasing?

A 2012 report from the American Council on Education showed that the average presidential tenure shortened from 8.5 years in 2006 to seven years in 2011. The Council's next report is expected this year.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities estimates roughly 25% of its members have seen a presidential turnover in recent years. The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) estimates there were 95 presidential transitions among its members in 2016—and that there have already been 92 presidential transitions in 2017, with half the year left to go.

The CIC has also identified a higher rate of turnover among chief academic officers; about one-third of its members reported turnover among those individuals in 2016, compared with one-quarter in 2015.

3. Why is it happening?

It's not entirely clear what's driving the accelerating pace of leadership turnover, Seltzer writes, but experts propose several theories.

Some believe presidents are facing more intense pressure from their boards in recent years. Boards are taking a more hands-on approach and, at the same time, are less likely to agree with presidential decisions than in the past. Experts also say that both board members and presidents are increasingly focused on quick wins. Trustees might be setting out specific performance expectations for the early part of a president's tenure—and the board might be ready to cut ties if the president doesn't meet those initial goals.

Another potential reason for rising turnover could be the array of challenges colleges face right now. Colleges are going through a tumultuous time at the moment, in the midst of academic and economic pressure, according to Alexander Yaffe, president and CEO of Yaffe and Company.

Finally, today's college presidents face a steeper learning curve, writes Pat Donachie for Education Dive. Presidents have increasingly been hired from outside of higher education, and business leaders may need a different kind of onboarding than previous presidents had (Donachie, Education Dive, 6/8; Seltzer, Inside Higher Ed, 6/7).

So you've got a new president. Ease the transition with these 5 steps.


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