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Presidents' Age and Tenure Increasing

March 20, 2007

The average age and length of tenure of college presidents have increased over the past 20 years, according to the results of a study released by the American Council on Education (ACE). In 2006, college presidents were eight years older, on average, than presidents in 1986—with the average age having increased from 52 to 60 years. The proportion of presidents who were age 61 or older grew from 14 percent in 1986 to almost half (49 percent) in 2006, suggesting that many institutions will lose their presidents to retirement in coming years.

Since 1986, growth in the percentage of women and minority presidents has been little, especially in recent years.  This could be due, in part, to the increasing amount of time that presidents are in office, which jumped during the past two decades from an average of 6.3 years to 8.5 years. In 2006, 86 percent of presidents were white and 77 percent were male, compared to 20 years ago when 92 percent were white and 91 percent were male.

"The American College President: 2007 Edition" is the sixth in a series of reports, published since 1986, describing the backgrounds, career paths, and experiences of the presidents of public and independent colleges and universities across the country. Highlights of the survey include the following:

  • In 2006, 6 percent of all presidents were African American, 5 percent were Hispanic, and 1 percent were Asian American.

  • Associate colleges were the most likely institution type to have a woman president; in 2006, 29 percent of associate college presidents were women. Doctorate-granting institutions were the least likely institution type to have a woman president--13.8 percent of doctorate-granting institutions had a female president in 2006.

  • The top four areas occupying the most significant amount of presidents’ time were fundraising, budget/financial management, community relations, and strategic planning. Independent college presidents most often cited fundraising, while public college presidents cited budget/financial management, as a primary use of their time.

  • Thirty-one percent of presidents served as provost or chief academic officer in their immediate prior position, up from 23 percent in 1986. Twenty-one percent served in another presidency and 13 percent of presidents came from outside academe, compared to 17 percent and 10 percent, respectively, in 1986.

  • Eighty-seven percent of all presidents served on at least one external board, a significant increase from 1986 when only 36 percent reported serving on external boards.

For more information on this study or to purchase a copy of the report, visit the ACE Web site.