Survey Finds Women of Color Represent Just Over a Tenth of College Presidents

Though oversampled in the survey due to intentional efforts to gather responses from women of color, these individuals still represent only 13% of college presidents.
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Jessica Bryant
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Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
Published on April 19, 2023
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  • The percentage of women presidents at U.S. colleges and universities has increased by 12 percentage points since 2001.
  • Yet, women still only account for about a third of university presidents as of 2022.
  • Among women, presidents of color, and women of color, expectations are higher and less clearly communicated during the hiring process.

Despite efforts to increase diversity in leadership at U.S. institutions, college presidents continue to be overwhelmingly white, male, and older, according to new data collected by the American Council on Education (ACE).

The organization surveyed 1,075 university presidents at all levels and found that women, presidents of color, and women of color still represent just a small sample of the individuals at the helm of the country's largest institutions.

Though women and women of color were oversampled in the survey due to intentional efforts by ACE to hear from these individuals, they still accounted for only a third (32.8%) and a little over a tenth (13%) of college presidents, respectively.

Women are also much less likely to hold the position of president at doctoral institutions, representing only 29% compared to 71% of men.

The percentage of minority college presidents is growing, with women presidents increasing by nearly 12 percentage points between 2001 and 2022.

But among minority presidents, there are significant gaps in expectations and guidance on the role.

Women, presidents of color, and women of color were all less likely to report that they had received a realistic assessment of the challenges facing their institution during the hiring process or a clear understanding of the expectations of the next president.

In addition to the confusion about expectations during the search process, once hired, these presidents who have been tasked with addressing racial injustice issues on their campuses don't always feel equipped to do so.

Just 42% of women presidents say they feel equipped to lead their institution in addressing racial justice issues compared to 54% of men.

Despite facing these challenges, nearly all college presidents who are women of color report they have a support system with whom to share feelings and stressors (95%). By comparison, 86% of men of color said the same.

Women of color are also least likely to say that they have struggled to find people who understand the experience of being a president (57%). Only 52% of Black women report struggling with this compared to 75% of Latina women and 74% of white women.

While institutions continue to make efforts to diversify their leadership, they must understand how to attract and retain individuals from historically underrepresented populations. To do so, they will need to increase mentorship, set clearer expectations, and offer additional guidance and support systems to incoming presidents.