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US: National census of chief academic officers

The first comprehensive survey of American chief academic officers - campus administrators who are well placed to take up chief executive positions at universities and colleges - has found that nearly two-thirds very satisfied with their positions yet the average length of time spent in the job is quite short, on average 4.7 years (compared with 8.7 years among presidents), and half find insufficient funds a major frustration. The CAO Census: A national profile of chief academic officers, produced by the American Council on Education, includes information from more than 1,700 individuals at colleges and universities nationwide.

The American Council on Education, or ACE, released the census during its 91st annual meeting, held in Washington DC last week. It was written by Peter D Eckel, director of programmes and initiatives at ACE's Center for Effective Leadership, Bryan J Cook, director of ACE's Center for Policy Analysis, and Jacqueline E King, assistant vice-president for policy analysis at ACE. It was made possible by a grant from the TIAA-CREF Institute.

Releasing the report, ACE pointed out in a statement that higher education is facing "a generational sea change as presidents age and consider retirement". Campus administrators, who are important leaders, "are perhaps best positioned to take up chief executive positions at academic institutions," it said. The census is a sister survey to ACE's American College President Study and was undertaken to uncover basic information about academic officers.

"The core functions of any campus - teaching, research, service - fall under the purview of the institution's chief academic officer," said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. "Yet surprisingly little is known about who these people are, how complex their jobs are, and how they got to this position. The data in The CAO Census will be useful in informing discussions about how to prepare the next generation of academic leaders."

Among the survey's major finding are that 85% percent of all chief academic officers are white, 6% are African American, 4% are Hispanic, 2% are Asian American, and around 1% are American Indian. Also, 40 % are women.

Sixty-three percent of chief academic officers are very satisfied in their position and 33% are somewhat satisfied. Also, 65% list curriculum and academic programmes as among their most time-consuming activities, followed by supervising and managing personnel (57%) and accountability, accreditation and assessment (47%).

Top frustrations "include never having enough money (48%), the difficulty of cultivating leadership in others (34%), and the belief by others that they are infinitely accessible by vehicles such as e-mail and meetings (32%)".

Most chief academic officers previously served as dean of an academic college (27%), followed by campus executive in academic affairs (23%) or a different chief academic officer position (13%). The most common career moves after a CAO position, as reported by successors, are to retire (21%), move into a presidency (20%) or return to the faculty (18%).

Just under a third of chief academic officers "intend to seek a presidency, despite ACE data that show the most common path to the president's office is through the chief academic officer," says the ACE statement.

Other key findings, as reported in the statement, include:

* Eighty-three percent of chief academic officers at doctorate-granting universities report they are the clear number two administrator behind the president, which is true for only 58% of those at special focus institutions and 60% at associate's colleges.

* Chief academic officers are modestly engaged in off-campus activities, beyond engaging with other colleges and universities and participating in community relations and outreach. More than 70% said they do little or no fundraising, 75% spend little or no time on alumni relations, and 64% spend little or no time on government relations.

* The majority of chief academic officers are hired from positions within their own institutions (52%). More than 40% rose through the administrative ranks at a single institution.

* The most common reasons chief academic officers give for not considering a presidency is that they find the nature of the work unappealing (66%), are ready to retire (32%), are concerned about the time demands of the position (27%), and don't want to live "in a fishbowl" (24%).

The CAO Census: A National Profile of Chief Academic Officers can be ordered online.
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