Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Colleges and universities appointing new type of leader: Mixing the academic with the strategic

Institutions of higher education have always responded to student needs and demands by continuing to evolve with the times. Recently, we've seen the growth of online classes, new and diverse career programs, and a boom in career counseling and guidance services that colleges and universities offer students. The departure from the traditional can even be seen at the highest levels of leadership.

Increasingly, schools are looking to new sources of guidance outside of academia. In the past, schools might have looked toward leaders that were professors or academic chairs, or chosen them from the ranks of deans and provosts. But today, there's a new kind of college president taking shape who mixes the academic with the administrative and strategic.

There are great examples of these types of leaders at colleges and universities throughout the country and right here in Philadelphia. Recently, our neighbors and colleagues at Drexel University in Philadelphia announced John A. Fry, the former President of Franklin and Marshall College, as their new President.

The Philadelphia Inquirer covered his appointment, and points out in this quote:
"Fry defies the traditional college president mold. He does not have a doctoral degree, has never been a dean or provost, and has not taught or conducted research."
Peirce College president Jim Mergiotti speaks 
to alumni in November 2009. Mergiotti is 
an example of a new type of president 
being chosen by colleges and universities.
Another example is Peirce's president, James J. Mergiotti. Before being appointed in 2009 as Peirce's seventh president, he served as the College's chief operating officer. Like the case of Drexel and Mr. Fry, Peirce's Board of Trustees chose a leader that understood the financial, operational, and practical concerns of a college, along with the high priority of academic quality.

The benefits of tapping leaders with a mix of experience are significant for both the school and its students and alumni. More schools must make the connection between the investment in higher education and career paths and goals.

Tapping leaders that bring out-of-the-box insight on degree programs, class structure, school administration and management, and career development means that a college might be able to better link the job world with the academic world.

Going forward, I believe colleges and universities will continue to evolve and appoint more of these types of leaders, incorporating diversity, experience, and strategy into higher education. It's an evolution that benefits schools, but most importantly, students.