Deans also have a wide range of responsibilities within the college or school they lead. Duties include decision-making on academic staff and faculty, responsibility for academic programming, oversight of overall curriculum goals, policymaking authority, and guidance and direction on financial matters.
Deans should see the “big picture” and be able to share that vision with those they lead. Strong leadership skills, the ability to build relationships and grow personal and professional networks, professional presence, and empathy for faculty and students are all important for a dean’s success as a leader.
Becoming a dean can be a unique option for those looking to advance into progressively more responsible administrative roles within higher education. Deans not only get to work with students, but they also get to shape an institution’s policies, initiatives and strategic direction.
There are many ways to choose a career path, and becoming a dean in a college or university means planning ahead to ensure you get the right education and experience.
What is a dean of faculty?
A dean of faculty serves as a liaison between the academic leadership of a college or school and the faculty of that institution. A successful dean of faculty is a person who acts as an advocate and champion for the needs of the faculty and is able to negotiate those needs with the academic leadership.
In this role it is crucial to be able to see both sides of an issue, quickly grasp the complexity of a situation, find common ground, and think critically about maximizing positive outcomes for both faculty and academic leadership.
What is a dean of students?
A dean of students is a service-oriented leadership role, typically the leader and advocate for the entire student body. Deans of students often serve as a guide and mentor to students, oversee academic policies related to students, and oversee disciplinary processes when issues arise with a student.
Deans of students also work to create positive relationships with faculty, staff, alumni and external constituencies to improve the student experience, and generally interface with the deans of colleges or disciplines to coordinate on strategies affecting students inside and outside of the classroom.
Dean compared with president
While both college deans and college presidents are leadership roles in higher education, the positions have major differences. Deans focus on guiding the academic and student life aspects of their institutions for a specific division or academic unit, whereas presidents focus on managing all operations across the university.
A university president must focus on developing strategies for growth and financial stability for the institution overall and act as its main spokesperson. Presidents are also ultimately responsible for legal issues such as accreditation, labor laws and compliance with state regulations.
In addition, presidents, like deans, often drive fundraising, but the president’s responsibility is often large, university-wide initiatives that require coordinated efforts. Presidents also represent their university to external stakeholders — sitting on boards, attending presidents’ meetings with other university leadership, and building relationships in the community.
Successful presidents are often seasoned business leaders, ensuring that the university can continue educating students and serving their needs through strategic thinking and wise financial planning.
Deans working in a college or university need a wide range of skills to be successful in their roles. These include:
- Leadership: They must have strong leadership and decision-making skills to manage student affairs effectively.
- Organizational skills: They must maintain accurate records and tasks that require excellent organizational capabilities.
- Communication: They must be able to communicate clearly with students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders to keep everyone informed about relevant issues.
- Interpersonal skills: Deans need to be able to collaborate with all those involved on campus to foster a positive learning environment.
- Patience and understanding: The role of deans involves managing difficult situations, so they must be patient and understanding when dealing with challenging student or faculty issues.
- Problem-solving: They must possess excellent problem-solving skills to address academic or disciplinary matters that might arise.
- Strategic thinking: Deans need to think strategically about their school’s future, such as developing initiatives for student success or recommending academic changes.
- Higher education experience
These are the core competencies but, depending on the institution, other skills may be required.
For example, a college dean at a small private institution might need fundraising experience if their job responsibilities include leading fundraising campaigns. A dean at a large public university may need to work with faculty to drive grant funding and research. Or a dean at an adult-serving institution may need to know the principles of andragogy (the art or science of teaching adults) to best serve these students.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), academic deans are in the category of “postsecondary education administrators.” BLS notes that postsecondary education administrators typically hold a master’s degree. However, it specifies dean positions typically require a PhD. Individuals with bachelor’s degrees may have opportunities, depending on the type of role and level of institution.
While certification is not required to become a college dean, it can benefit those interested in pursuing leadership roles. A Certified Higher Education Professional (CHEP) credential is widely recognized as important for those working in higher education administration. The CHEP credential demonstrates an understanding of higher education administration and leadership principles. It also indicates a commitment to professional development and ethical practices.
In addition to the CHEP, other certifications may be helpful, depending on the role of the dean. For example, a dean of student affairs might benefit from having a Student Affairs Educator Certification credential, which focuses on the principles and practices of student affairs administration. The type of certification required for each role will depend on the institution and other factors such as location.
Ultimately, having relevant certifications could be beneficial in helping to secure a dean position and demonstrate an individual’s commitment to professional development.
In addition to formal education, prior experience is often necessary for becoming a college dean. The type of experience required depends on the particular role and responsibilities. For example, an applicant for a dean of student services position might need experience in student affairs or higher education administration. Other experiences might include:
- Leadership positions, such as serving on university committees
- Teaching experience at a college or university
- Serving in management
Having worked with administrators and faculty members is also beneficial. Developing relationships with other leaders and staff on campus can help a new or aspiring dean navigate the role’s challenges. In addition, it is common for deans to have experience at their institution, or in a similar setting, that helps them understand the culture, policies and procedures.