An examination of community college Chief Academic Officers and oncoming presidential vacancies
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As American community colleges enter the 21 st century, there is a convergence of concerns regarding the next generation of community college leaders. Both community college presidents and their Chief Academic Officers (CAO) are retiring at rapid rate; it is predicted that 80% of all presidents and lead administrators will retire by 2011. Historically, CAOs have been the most likely source to fill presidential vacancies - aside from existing presidents themselves. However, research suggests that future community college leaders will require a skillset different from their predecessors. This suggests the possibility that either the next generation of leaders needs to come via non-traditional routes or additional training will be needed for current academics aspiring to ascend into upper administration. The purpose of this study is to ascertain the identity of today's Chief Academic Officers in terms of their gender and race/ethnicity. Also additional information has been gathered regarding their educational background and the educational and occupational backgrounds of their parents. Female and minority CAOs have been asked to share their experiences unique to them because of their gender and race/ethnicity. Finally, CAOs who have been identified by their peers as exemplars in their field were asked to rate the importance of specific attitudes, skills, and abilities to not only Chief Academic Officers, but also what they perceive as important traits in their subordinates. A two-staged online surveying process resulted in feedback from 336 Chief Academic Officers. The surveys were largely based on a similar research effort in the mid-1980s. By adopting a similar method, it was possible to conduct several comparative analyses. Several important finding emerged from this study. Today's Chief Academic Officers are more diverse (in terms of gender and race/ethnicity) than they were 20 years ago. A majority of female and minority CAOs participated in some sort of leadership training or professional development that helped them execute their duties as Chief Academic Officer. However, this same group of administrators still experience obstacles in terms of interviewing, getting hired, and gaining acceptance from their colleagues. Finally, the skills, attitudes, and abilities that are perceived as important to Chief Academic Officers and their subordinates are relatively similar to how they were in the past. The implications of this study are discussed with the intent of educating Boards of Trustees, hiring committees, policy makers, and all interesting in the community college movement.