Pathways to the American college presidency
West, Michael Thomas
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The college presidency in the United States is expected to undergo significant turnover in the next five to ten years across all institutional types due to aging of presidents and shorter terms served in office. Presidential vacancies are expected at 25 percent of all institutions, and at 48 percent of all independent institutions, making this issue a significant concern to higher education stakeholders and a research priority. Compounding the issue of potential presidential vacancies is that the United States does not have enough qualified, interested, and prepared individuals from the traditional pipeline to assume the number of presidential positions that will open once the current generation of college and university presidents retire. Presidential searches and appointments that seek a high degree of alignment between the needs of the institution and the qualifications and experience of the candidate will result in searches that extend beyond traditional search patterns. Although the college presidency is one of the most widely researched areas of higher education, extant literature on preparation and career paths that lead to college presidencies is limited. Researchers have suggested a possible correlation between preparation for the presidency and job satisfaction, which may influence tenure in office and institutional stability. The present study examined the pre- and post-appointment experiences of 472 first-time college presidents to understand the relationship between career paths, preparation, job satisfaction, and the number of years that college presidents spend in office. Research findings have significant implications for practice and future research, as colleges and universities consider who will fill the impending vacancies in the American college presidency.
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