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The women leading higher education in the US

November 10, 2023

A recent survey on the profile of US university presidents, conducted by the American Council of Education, found that only a third of the presidencies are held by women, a rate that has been stagnant for years. This figure goes against the current context: 60% of university students in the US are women and they graduate at a higher percentage than men.

According to the study, over half (55%) of presidents planned to step down from their current positions within the next five years. For researchers, these future vacancies are seen as an opportunity for more women and people of color to rise to the college presidency.

“The complex issues facing colleges and universities today need diverse, informed, and well-supported leaders to address the changes and developments of tomorrow. Current leaders, administrators, search consultants and committees, boards, and other stakeholders all have a role in ensuring capable presidential leadership throughout higher education—both now and in the future,” the report says.

6 out of 8 Ivy League colleges have women presidents

At the start of the academic year in the United States this 2023, six of the eight presidents of Ivy League universities – a group made up of some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the USA – are now women. They are: 

  • Claudine Gay (Harvard)
  • Nemet Minouche Shafik (Columbia)
  • Sian Leah Beilock (Dartmouth)
  • Christina Paxson (Brown)
  • Martha Pollack (Cornell)
  • Mary Elizabeth Magill (University of Pennsylvania)

Women only began to occupy the most important positions at Ivy League universities in 1994, when Judith Rodin was appointed president of the University of Pennsylvania, according to Forbes magazine. Since then, progress towards gender equity has been slow. 

Source: American Council on Education | IES | Forbes