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Career transition to higher ed administration


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Hoping to get some career insight from this forum, as you all seem quite in tune with the education field (and I am certainly not!).

I am considering a career switch into higher education - I was very involved in student government activities during undergrad and worked for the VP for Student Affairs for 4 yrs as well. I'd ultimately like to hold a similar position, or perhaps dean of business or public policy school, or the dream - university president.

Note, I'd want to do this at a large public university in the south (ie, SEC type schools such as LSU, UGA, AU, etc)

My background to date -- masters in public policy from top 10 school, MPhil in business field from Cambridge, and 4 years of strategy consulting (currently in this job still).

My question - what would be the best path to reach the positions noted above (dean/VP/president)?

I see three potential routes (that fit with my own interests):

1) continue down the career path that I am going which would likely include a switch to public sector or non-profit management position in coming year. Try to come into higher ed admin by being a "star" in public/non-profit sector. Perhaps add an MBA along the way to gain the management skills and cache

2) pursue a PhD in the coming years, in the field of my preference (likely public policy) and at ~35 yrs old try to get on fast track into administration without having to do tenure track (is this even possible?)

3) pursue a masters and/or PhD/EdD in higher education administration and go directly into administration. This potentially seems like the lowest risk option, but I'm just not sure where the higher ed PhDs end up? I don't particularly want to start as an asst provost for strategy and planning etc, having to fight through the admin ranks for 20 yrs before landing my dream job.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated!

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Definitely familiarize yourself with the higher ed organizational structure(s) before you jump into more education. There are some great posts about this on the career forum at Chronicle.com (Chronicle of Higher Education). Here's a quick boildown (and note, all universities are a little different):

At many schools, there are two tracks:

1) student affairs administration and

2) academic administration (department/school Deans)

If you want to get into a senior-level position in student affairs/administration, you will likely have to work your way up a position or two. You might start mid-level (your degrees now may be sufficient) and work for the promotion. Possibly acquiring a PhD along the way, if it's required. It's unlikely they'd sail you to the top right away--you will after all be heading up a group of other people who've been following the track for 10-20 years, and will be lacking "experience" (non-profit experience is not the same thing as student affairs experience).

If you want a senior-level position on the academic side, it's very unusual to get this without having some experience as faculty. After all, if you're basically the head of a group of people, you want to have some familiarity with their world. And you usually come from their ranks and have proven yourself there.

That said, I know there are a number of colleges that blur these distinctions. Your best bet may be to pick several schools you'd like to work at, and do the research to figure out where there leadership came from.

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