American College President Study 2017

As market forces continue to reshape the higher education landscape, understanding the U.S. college presidency – and its inherent challenges and opportunities – is more important than ever.


The 2017 edition of the American College President Study, produced by the American Council on Education (ACE) in partnership with the TIAA Institute, provides the most comprehensive examination to date of American college and university presidents. In addition to examining presidential demographics, selection processes, responsibilities and career trajectories, this eighth edition of the study explores presidents’ views on diversity and inclusion, state funding, the political climate, and more.

Regarding presidential demographics, study findings show women’s representation in the presidency has nearly tripled since 1986, although women remain underrepresented. Moreover, only 5% of all presidents are women of color. To explore the reasons for this slow growth, ACE interviewed four women of color who currently serve as presidents or chancellors. The resulting report, "Voices from the Field," captures those conversations and offers unique perspectives on ways race and gender shape attitudes and choices across academia.

Visit ACE's websiteOpens in a new window for additional information and to purchase the study. There is also an interactive data toolOpens in a new window on the site.

Key Insights

  • The average president is age 62, a full decade older than the average age 30 years ago.
  • More than half of today’s presidents (54%) expect to step down within five years, presenting an opportunity for diversification.
  • The percentage of women holding the top job at colleges and universities stood at 30 percent in 2016, up just four percentage points from 2011.
  • The percentage of college presidents who were minorities also increased by four percentage points, from 13 percent in 2011 to 17 percent in 2016.
  • Most presidents believe revenues in the next five years will increase from private gifts, grants and contracts; tuition and fees; and endowment income.

Women and racial/ethnic minorities continue to be underrepresented among presidents.


The American College President Study is based on a national survey administered in 2016. Participants include 1,546 college and university presidents, chancellors and CEOs at various types of public and private institutions across the United States.


Jonathan S. Gagliardi

American Council on Education

Lorelle S. Espinosa

American Council on Education

Jonathan M. Turk

American Council on Education

Morgan Taylor

American Council on Education

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