Career lines of chief academic officers at rural two-year colleges
There is evidence in the literature that two-year colleges will be facing a significant shortage of administrative leaders in the next few years. While the chief academic officer (CAO) plays a significant role in the academic agenda of an institution, a number of CAOs are expected to move vertically to the chief executive officer (CEO) position, move laterally to another CAO position at another institution, or retire in the next few years. However, to date only a few national studies have been reported in the literature that focus on the career lines to the CAO position. Nationally, nearly 70% of two-year colleges are rural thus constituting a large portion of the population of two-year institutions. Yet, none of the studies in the literature have focused on the career lines to the CAO position at rural two-year colleges. The purpose of this study was to examine the career lines of CAOs at rural two-year institutions, and the entry points and boundaries which shape those career lines. Four research questions were developed to investigate the entry points, job experiences, career lines, and boundaries of the rural CAOs. The data for this study was drawn from a larger study of CAOs conducted by the National Council of Instructional Administrators (NCIA). Career line data from 72 CAOs at rural two-year institutions was used for this study representing 63% of the CAOs in the NCIA database. Although no single point of entry for the CAO career line was found in this study, a faculty position in higher education was identified as the most frequent entry point. Additionally, division/department chair was identified as a common point of entry into higher education. Combined, faculty and division/department chair positions represented 52.1% of the CAO entry points. CAOs have held a variety of positions in higher education prior to becoming a CAO. Two-thirds of CAOs at rural institutions (66.7%) have been a dean or director prior to becoming a CAO. Half of current CAOs (50%) have been the CAO at another institution and nearly one-third (31.9%) have held an associate or assistant chief academic officer position. Seven career lines were found leading to the CAO position at rural two-year colleges. A total of only five positions were found in the seven career lines: CAO, associate academic officer, academic dean, division/department chair, and faculty. These seven career lines represented 73% of the population. In this study, two types of boundaries were observable: single institution (firm) and two-year institution (occupational). Both types of boundary become increasingly narrower the closer one moves to the CAO position. Of the CAOs in this study, 69.6% moved to their current position within the same organization. Including those moving within the same institution, 91.3% moved from either within the same organization or another two-year institution. While this study was the first study to focus on career lines of CAOs at rural two-year colleges, additional research is needed to fully understand the career paths to the CAO position.