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US–college and university chief academic officers (CAOs) on their own institutions

At the end of January 2017 the Inside Higher Ed released its sixth annual Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers (CAOs). The survey, conducted for Inside Higher Ed by Gallup, reveals how these leaders perceive and address the challenges currently faced by higher education institutions in the United States (US). The main purpose of the study was to identify the practices, as well as perceptions, of college and university respondents on central matters such as finances, academics, strategies and policies. With regards to the methodology of the study, a total of 2 721 CAOs and provosts were addressed via email. In total, 654 completed or partially completed web surveys were received, corresponding to a 24% response rate. Respondents represented 332 public institutions, 303 private institutions, and 12 institutions from the for-profit sector. The weighted sample results are considered by the authors as representative nationwide.

The survey specifically addressed a number of aspects in detail, namely academic health, liberal arts education, faculty and tenure, competency-based education, institutional effectiveness, assessment programs, student evaluations of teaching, minority faculty hiring, diversity in curriculum, trigger warnings, budgets and finances, scholarship and leadership, teaching assistant unions, and enhancements to classroom instruction.

The wide majority of respondents – 86% - are confident in the academic health of their institution, rating their institution’s academic health as either excellent or good. CAOs tend to be more positive than negative also about assessment efforts their institution has taken. The majority of respondents believes the quality of teaching has improved because of the growth of assessment efforts. At the same time, 48% of respondents believe their college is very effective at preparing students for the world of work.

There is wide agreement between the respondents on the view that “liberal arts education is central to undergraduate education, even in professional programs”. Nevertheless, 54% of respondents expect a significant decrease in the number of liberal arts institutions over the next five years and tend to generally agree that liberal arts education in the US is in decline. Community college CAOs, in particular, feel that liberal arts education has moved too far away from students’ career needs.

On the topic of diversity, the majority of respondents have positive assessments of their own institution, believing that departments at their college highly value diversity in hiring. Nevertheless, opinions are divided as to whether minority hiring targets at the national level are realistic and whether their institution can meet its target.

On the finances, 47% of CAOs do not agree with the statement that their institution’s financial situation has improved in the last year. This represents a change compared to 2015, when 42% agreed with the statement, while 40% disagreed.

For a full overview of the findings, please consult the  report.

Inside Higher ED - Full report