Trustees | Presidential Search

Assuring a Successful College President Search

An ACTA Guide to Presidential Search, Screening, and Selection
July 25, 2023 by Robert C. Dickeson Download PDF

The purpose of this guide is to assist governing board trustees in the execution of their most important task: the selection of a president who will lead the institution in the years ahead. Most studies about college presidential tenure indicate that the average tenure of a president is now under six years. The reasons for presidential turnover are varied and may include factors beyond the control of the governing board. But in a large number of instances, it may simply be a question of inadequate fit between the trustees’ expectations and the executive’s performance. Because searches are time-consuming and expensive, and because disruptions in presidential leadership can bring about institutional discontinuity or instability—or both—it is critical that today’s trustees approach the process of finding a new leader with care, adequate preparation, and savvy understanding.

What follows are a dozen elements of the process that are intended to improve the chances for a successful presidential search.


1. Preparation: Setting Realistic Expectations

2. Pitfalls to Avoid

3. Presidential Search Checklist, a Start-to-Finish Plan

4. Drafting a Search Calendar

5. Constructing a Search Budget

6. Appointing a Search & Screening Committee

7. Selecting a Search Firm

8. Protocol for Checking References

9. Questions to Ask During Finalist Interviews

10. Negotiating a Contract

11. Ensuring a Successful Transition

We hope this guide helps you navigate the complex route to selecting the right president for your institution. Your engaged service as trustees is essential to the success of American higher education.

Best wishes going forward!


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