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What Qualifications Should Your College President Have?

Sep 09, 2011

The president of any college or university has to handle many different responsibilities - raising funds, overseeing staff and working to maintain academic standards. With such diverse duties to worry about, what qualifications does one need to head up a higher education institution?

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By Jessica Lyons

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What Are Universities Looking For?

When it's time to find a new college president, it seems that schools are hoping to draw in candidates with a background in just about everything. For example, when Ball State University was look for a new president in 1999, among its preferred qualifications were that the person had been previously successful at fundraising, could form a management team and held a terminal degree, preferably a Ph.D.

In 2007, when Valparaiso University was going through a similar search, it wanted a president who had executive, management and leadership skills, fundraising experience, familiarity with tenured faculty work and a terminal degree. The University of Nebraska was also hoping to nab someone who could help increase the school's funding base and who had a record of academic performance excellence when searching for a new president in 2003.

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What Qualities Are Most Important?

While colleges and universities seem to want their presidents to be able to do everything, which qualifications are the most important ones for them to possess? The number one quality schools should seek in their presidents is a strong background in working in the academic world. It could be difficult for someone to lead an academic institution to success if they don't truly understand its workings.

And just having a terminal degree might not be enough. Although having such a degree could show that the individual is committed to learning and values it, such a degree doesn't necessarily guarantee they can run a college. However, someone who has taught in a college classroom and held previous higher education administrative positions would mostly like have a stronger understanding of the academic world that would help them succeed as president.

Once schools have ensured that their new president has the necessary academic background, then they can worry about finding someone who also has business skills and fundraising abilities. School presidents need to understand and possibly be able to handle operations aspects like budgeting, human resources and even customer service. Since higher education institutions are constantly in need of additional funding, it is also important that the president be able to have a large positive impact in the area of fundraising.

In addition to the above qualities, it's also imperative that the person is willing to make themselves accessible to the student body and that they will be responsive to their needs. He or she can't be so focused on something like fundraising that they forget about the students they are serving.

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