December 8, 2022

Year-end Review: The New Private College Presidents of 2018

(Full list of all new presidents)

In this year-end wrap-up, we’ve identified 96 private college and university presidents taking office in 2018, plus another 35 appointed as interim presidents.

The institutions they head range from the highly visible (Harvard) to the more specialized (the New England College of Optometry).  Of the 131, more than two-thirds took office between June and September, so have just completed their first semester as presidents.  The outliers mainly assumed the presidency earlier in 2018.


Demographically, the Class of 2018 presidents follow some past patterns, but also hint at shifts in private college leadership.  The numbers also are testimony to the difficulty in increasing the proportion of private college presidencies held by women and minorities.  (For comparisons to past years, we’ve relied on the American Council of Education’s American College Presidents Study, 2017, which uses data from 2016.)

Gender tracks almost perfectly with the ACE numbers.  Of the 2018 permanent appointments, 29 percent are female – almost the same as ACE found for presidents of colleges and universities overall in its study.  Slightly fewer women – 26 percent – were named interim presidents in 2018.

Minority appointments account for just 12 percent of all the 2018 presidents taking office.  That is marginally higher than the 11 percent reported for all private colleges and universities (in a break-out of the ACE data produced by the Council of Independent Colleges in August 2018), but well below the nearly 17 percent of minority presidents the ACE study reported across all sectors.

The diversity across the 16 minority presidents taking office in 2018 is also very limited.  The group includes one Latina, one Middle Easterner, and 14 African-Americans.  Further, the African-American number is skewed by eight of those new presidents taking office at HBCUs – a sub-group of private institutions traditionally headed by African-Americans.

Permanently-appointed Presidents

At this point we’ll talk separately about the past year’s permanently-appointed and interim presidents, since there are noteworthy differences across the two groups.

The big news in career path trends this past year may be that so few of the new permanent presidents have previously led a college or university.  Only 18 percent come to the job with prior presidential experience, across all types of private institutions.  While that is typical for the smaller bachelor’s-degree colleges, the portion of former presidents in the other categories has been considerably higher in the past.

It has long held that the most common career path to a college or university presidency, across all sectors, is through the provost’s office.  In 2018, chief academic officers still represented 24 percent of all permanent presidential appointments – the largest single subset of prior positions.  Adding those coming from other campus positions, the number grows to 85 percent of the new presidents coming out of higher education – exactly the same as the ACE 2016 data.

An especially interesting segment is the remaining 15 percent of new permanent presidents who come from outside careers with no higher education experience – often from business, but also from religious and other nonprofit organizations.  This could be a growing segment in coming years as colleges look for new problem-solvers to lead them.

It was easy for 15 of the new permanent presidents to change offices.  They came from the same institution they now would head, having previously been CAO (6), a vice president (6), or a member of the faculty or administration (2).  Only five of the 15 internal appointments had served as interim at the institution before being named president; the other two-thirds were chosen through an open search process.

It is also worth noting that 15 percent of all new presidents in 2018 are alumni of the institutions they now head.  These new alumni presidents, whether permanent or interim, range across all types of institutions.

Considering the highest degree the new presidents have earned, it’s no surprise that the Ph.D. continues to dominate.  A bit more surprising, though, is that close to half (43 percent) of the 2018 presidents don’t have a Ph.D.

Most common beyond the Ph.D. are presidents with Ed.D. and J.D. degrees.  The MBA group is especially interesting.  While it is the highest degree for just four of the new presidents, another eight with Ph.D. or Ed.D. degrees also hold an MBA.

The “Other” group includes a mix of other master’s degrees, a smattering of other doctoral degrees, and even a couple bachelor’s degrees.

Interim Presidents

For the most part, the 2018 interim presidents were already members of the institutions they would serve.  Of the 36 interims, more than three-fourths took leave from their permanent position (or in one case came out of retirement) to serve while the presidential search was underway.

Most often the internal interims’ permanent positions were as CAO. However, a number of campus vice presidents, faculty members, and one dean also were chosen as interim president.  An additional four interim presidents had served on the institution’s board.  A handful were appointed through interim placement services such as The Registry, while a couple others appear to have come through wider interim-president searches.

The 2018 Interim Longevity Award goes to Dr. James “Tim” Barry, who became interim president of Alderson Broaddus University in December 2015.  Formerly president of Mount Marty College, he was named to the AB presidency through The Registry.  His initial Registry contract was twice extended, with the Alderson Broaddus board naming him the permanent president just this past November.

A Sampling of 131 Stories

They are an interesting group, these new private college presidents, and are as diverse as the institutions they lead.  While we can’t tell all of the new presidents’ stories – their history, interests, career paths, and accomplishments – we’ll highlight just a few.

Previously:  Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life, Emory University

Among the first college or university presidents of Indian-American descent in the U.S.  Expert in student affairs issues, and a social justice, race, and ethnicity scholar.

Previously:  Chief of Chaplains, United States Air Force, 2015-18

Served as Air Force Chief of Chaplains, the senior pastor for more than 664,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian forces, and led 2,000 chaplains and chaplain assistants.

Previously:  (Everett) CEO, Treasure Valley YMCA, 1987-2016; (Brigham) President and Owner, TitleOne Corporation, 2008-18

This is possibly the first attempt at a truly joint presidency of a college.  Well worth watching.

Previously:  General Counsel and Vice President of External Affairs, Tuskegee University

At age 37 in 2018, Faison’s appointment as EWC’s next leader makes him the nation’s youngest sitting president & CEO of an HBCU.

Previously:  Dean, Rabbinical School, Hebrew College, 2006

Named to Newsweek’s list of Top 50 Influential Rabbis in America, 2011 to2013. In 2015, named one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post.

Previously:  Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, Hodges University

His higher education career didn’t start until after about 20 years working on cars. Is a certified master automobile technician, has been an auto repair shop and a towing business owner.

Previously:  Director, Aspen Institute Arts Program. 2011-18

Retired in 2008 from a 20-year career as a principal dancer with New York City Ballet and as a dancer on the international stage.

Previously:  Provost and Chief Academic Officer, St. Thomas University, 2014-18

Cuban-born American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. when she was an infant.  First female to earn a Ph.D. in engineering from Florida International University.

Previously:  Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Carroll University (Wis.), 2007-18

Returned to college as an adult after working for several years.  Was the first nontraditional student to receive a full scholarship at Duke University.

Previously:  President, CEO, and Chairman, Kajima International

For 37 years led the fourth largest construction-related services company in the world.  Has served on the boards of more than a dozen educational institutions.

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