Higher Education

Unlike the students they oversee, most college presidents are white and male

New report finds only slow progress toward diversifying the top jobs on campus

Despite a growing demand for more diversity in higher education, more than 70 percent of college presidents are men, and 80 percent are white, according to a new report.

There have been small gains for women and racial and ethnic minorities in the last 10 years, according to the study, by the American Council on Education and TIAA Institute. But the average age of college presidents has also gotten higher, rising to 62 now from an average of 52 three decades ago.

Meanwhile, the student body is becoming more diverse. While 30 percent of college presidents are women, female students have outnumbered male students since 1979. And nonwhite students are expected to make up 44 percent of enrollment within the next eight years, U.S. Census data show. That compares to 17 percent of presidents.

Eight percent of college presidents are black, and 4 percent Hispanic.

One reason older white men still predominate in college executive offices is that experience is valued over other qualities during the hiring process, the report says. That restricts the hiring pool to one that is whiter, older, and more male than the general population. More than a quarter of the 1,456 college and university presidents, chancellors, and CEOs surveyed had been college presidents before.

Ninety-four percent said they recognized it was important to increase racial and ethnic diversity, and 89 percent that gender diversity was essential. But fewer than half said their institutions had systems in place to encourage the hiring more women and racial and ethnic minority faculty.

The survey has been conducted since 1986 by ACE, the principal association of U.S. universities and colleges.

Since 2006, the number of woman presidents has increased by 7 percentage points, and the number of racial and ethnic minorities by less than 3 percentage points.

The report did suggest that there are opportunities for change. Slightly more than half of the presidents surveyed said they planned to leave their position within five years, creating hundreds of new openings for presidents.

Some small, mostly white liberal-arts colleges have started hiring their first female and nonwhite presidents. Swarthmore appointed its first black president, Valerie Smith, in 2013. Trinity College in Connecticut, Kenyon, and Wellesley also hired black presidents.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

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