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ACE: Significant Efforts Needed to Improve Diversity in College Presidency Ranks

To increase racial diversity among America’s college presidents, the American Council on Education is partnering with other leading higher education associations to launch The Spectrum Initiative, a multi-year national agenda designed to diversify executive leadership talent in higher education.

The initiative comes on the heels of an ACE study that suggests schools will have to develop better strategies of identifying and accelerating talent within faculty ranks.

Despite the ongoing efforts by academic and professional associations to diversify presidential appointments at America’s colleges and universities, the number of college presidents from underrepresented groups has grown only 5 percent over the last 20-year period.

The installment last month of Dr. Elsa Murano as the first female and first Hispanic president of Texas A&M University is a sign of improvement (See ‘A Chat With Elsa Murano’). But while women have made significant gains — there are more women than ever, comprising 23 percent of college presidents —, presidents of color have not kept pace.

Characteristics of College Presidents: 2006 and 1986













Asian American



American Indian



Multiple Race



All Minority



According to a report released Thursday by ACE, “On the Pathway to the Presidency: Characteristics of Higher Education’s Senior Leadership,” minorities make up just 14 percent of college president positions.

Over the last two decades, the number of African-American college presidents increased by less than 1 percent compared with 2 percent of Hispanic presidents. The number of Asian American college presidents decreased over this time period.

“This study suggest that colleges and universities must not only tap into the existing pool of qualified women in order to create greater gender diversity at the presidential level, but that much more significant efforts are necessary to create greater racial and ethnic diversity among presidents,” said Jacqueline E. King, assistant vice president of the Center Policy at ACE and co-author of the study.

Nearly half of all college presidents are 61 and older, and researchers expect a dramatic wave of retirement to take place in the next few years, presenting a unique opportunity for people of color in leadership positions. Dartmouth College’s president of 10 years Dr. James Wright will retire next year as will Virginia Wesleyan’s Dr. William T. Greer and others, opening the door for a new guard of leadership.

Characteristics of College Presidents: 2006 and 1986





Aged 50 or younger



Aged 51 or 60



Aged 61 or older



The report notes that the share of minorities serving in senior leadership roles mirrors their proportion among senior faculty, suggesting that efforts to create greater racial diversity among presidents must began with faculty recruitment and retention.

Sixty-one percent of presidents come from senior administrative positions within higher education. These senior leaders are, as a group, younger than presidents and more likely to be women. Currently, only 16 percent of all senior campus administrators are people of color compared to the 45 percent who are women.

“The higher education community must develop more comprehensive talent management strategies to increase the diversity of college and university workforce particularly at the senior leadership level,” said Andy Brantley, chief executive officer of the College and University Professional Association of Human Resources, the organization that co-sponsored the study.

Expanding the number of minority college presidents will likely require increasing the number of minorities entering faculty positions.

Researchers say small but significant pools of potential candidates exist among Asian Americans at doctoral-granting institutions, African-Americans at master’s and baccalaureate institutions, and Hispanics at community colleges.

According to the report, deans of academic colleges at baccalaureate institutions are the most racially diverse, suggesting that there is a significant pool of minority leadership at these institutions. African-Americans and Asians are best represented here, holding 12 and 5 percent of the deanships respectively.

Hispanics are better represented in academic affairs positions at community colleges than other types of institutions.

“We must continue to see an increase of minority representation at doctoral granting institutions and at institutions of all types,” said Brantley.

–Michelle J. Nealy

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