More College Presidents Hail From Outside Academia

Ann McClure's picture

Michael Alexander has heard it all before: People with business backgrounds do not understand academia and are ill-equipped to lead colleges and universities. He has a ready rejoinder to such talk: “Balderdash.’’

Before he became president of Lasell College in Newton in 2007, he worked in entertainment and as chief executive of a technology firm. He never finished his doctorate, which means two-thirds of his full-time faculty outrank him academically.

A growing number of colleges seem to share his faith in the value of outsider presidents, PhD or no PhD. Twenty percent of college presidents in the United States now come from fields outside academia, a sharp increase from 13 percent just six years ago, according to a new national survey by the American Council on Education. Nearly a third have never been professors.

Many believe the trend is a symptom of the increasing corporatization of higher education, as colleges, especially smaller ones with lackluster or limited endowments, struggle to steady their finances and attract students willing and able to pay high tuition.

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