A glimpse at CEO transitions and more


DENVER – More than one-quarter of community college presidents plan to leave their position in the next year or two, with about 20% saying they will likely retire. More than one-third indicate they will retire within five years.

Digging further, more than 40% of female presidents of community colleges report they plan to retire over the next five years, with men of color least likely to retire over that time (10%).

The findings are based on preliminary data from the American Council on Education’s (ACE) 2023 American College President Survey (ACPS). ACE will release the official ACPS report on April 14 at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. ACE last conducted its survey in 2017.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) did a first-look analysis of the new ACPS data, which it merged with information from its membership data and federal IPEDS data. The association presented its preliminary findings at the AACC Annual Convention on Monday and expects to release its complete official findings in the coming months.

Less movement

Earlier this week, AACC shared at its annual meeting information about transitional trends among its member presidents. It found that the pace of CEO transitions (either to another job or into retirement) continues to slow. Nearly 90 top leaders (7.3%) reported that they transitioned in 2021-22, compared to 103 (9.6%) in 2020-21. The rate has consistently dipped since its high mark in 2016-17 of 144 (13.5%).

It looks like figures for 2022-23 will continue the lowering rate. So far in 2022-23, 78 presidents (7.3%) have reported plans to move on.

Diversity leaders

AACC’s preliminary analysis of the upcoming ACE report suggests that community college presidents tend to be more diverse than presidents of non-community colleges both in race/ethnicity and gender. In fact, the two-year college sector has a higher percentage of white women and of men and women of color in CEO positions than at non-community college institutions.

The analysis also indicates that male community college presidents tend to be older than female presidents (average age of 59 compared to 57), and they were also older when they first become presidents (51 compared to 49). But a larger percentage of men also were named president at a younger age than women — almost one-quarter of them attained the position before age 45, compared to 15% of women CEOs.

When looking at race and ethnicity, Hispanic and white presidents were older when they landed the top job, compared to Blacks, Asian Pacific Islanders and Native American, said Kent Phillippe, AACC’s vice president of research and student success, who reviewed the ACPS early data. Black females were the oldest when they reached the presidency, while minority males were the youngest.

The preliminary data also suggests that white men tend to lead smaller, rural colleges, while Black men tend to lead larger, urban two-year colleges. Women of color are more likely to lead colleges where Hispanic students comprise at least 25% of enrollments, while males are least likely to lead those types of institutions. Also, Black men are more like to lead institutions where Black students comprise at least one-quarter of enrollment.

Pay and contracts

Women also tend to earn more on average than men, with the average salary overall for community college leaders being slightly more than $222,000. Phillippe noted some caveats. For example, women tend to lead at larger institutions, which typically pay more, so it’s harder to determine if pay overall is more equitable without a deeper dive into the data. He also noted that data from colleges in California, which has higher costs of living and therefore higher compensation, can skew national figures.

Surprisingly, a good percentage of surveyed community college presidents don’t have a contract. They tend to be younger presidents and leaders of multi-campus colleges.

AACC is particularly interested in learning more about the path presidents take to their position, Phillippe said, noting that the findings suggest women tend to take a more traditional academic approach to the presidency.

“There’s a whole lot of good questions to ask about this data,” he said.

The new ACPS, which includes responses from more than 1,000 college and university presidents taken between February to June 2022, includes some new categories, said Hollie Chessman, ACE’s director of practice and research. It asked leaders about their career paths (their last five positions), care of loved ones, impact of Covid on their retirement, effects of racial injustice and how it showed up on campuses, and the biggest challenges of their presidential tenures. (The No. 1 challenge reported was Covid, followed by enrollments.)

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.