College Presidents Aren’t Much More Diverse than They Ever Were

Yesterday I wrote about the new interim president of Prairie View A&M University, a small historically black college in Prairie View, Texas. Ruth Simmons, the first black person to lead an Ivy League school—Brown University—and a former president of Smith College—a prestigious women’s college in Massachusetts—will begin her tenure at Prairie View July 1.

It isn’t really news that a black person has been chosen to lead an HBCU—though not too long ago all were led by white men.


But according to a recent study, college presidents are only slowly diversifying. Not including minority-serving institutions, only 11% of colleges surveyed are led by a person of color.

The latest version of the American College President Study from the American Council on Education, released June 20, reveals only “small gains in the number of women and minority presidents—but increases took place at a slow pace….” according to Inside Higher Ed.

Interestingly, gains that did occur accrued mostly to African Americans. The percentage of African American college presidents increased from 5.9% five years ago to 7.9% in 2016.

But most American colleges are led by white men, although, as Inside Higher Ed points out, most college students today are women. The men in charge are also older: 11% of college presidents are 71 or older; those older than 60 make up 58%.

“As college and university presidents seem to be chosen as much for their experience as anything else, that is going to narrow the pool,” Jonathan Gagliardi, associate director of ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy, is quoted as saying. “It will certainly work against diversifying the pipeline in a more expedient fashion.”

Here’s an excerpt from Inside Higher Ed:

The traditional model for a college president has remarkable staying power.

Despite years of talk about increasing diversity, chatter about interest in hiring from outside academe, and buzz about a coming wave of retirements, college and university presidents in 2016 looked much like they did five years before.

They still tended to be aging white men. And they kept getting older.

Those are some key takeaways from the latest version of the American College President Study from the American Council on Education…. The study, which has been released every few years dating back to 1986, provides a closely watched, comprehensive look at the makeup of the college and university presidential work force.

Read more at Inside Higher Ed.