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The New College President: A Study of Leadership in Challenging Times

Kara Kolomitz, Johnson & Wales University


Minimal research has explored the realities of new presidential leadership of small private colleges and universities. These institutions that comprise the majority of the one-third of higher education institutions already confronting financial and environmental challenges, also face other challenges of paramount concern (Lyken-Segosebe & Shephard, 2013; Selingo, 2013a). Among these challenges is that of providing presidential leadership from a diminishing pool of experienced candidates qualified or willing to lead them (Cook, 2012; Song & Hartley, 2012). Using the presidential office as the pivotal point of inquiry, this qualitative phenomenological study sought to answer the following: What is the unique lived experience of new presidents at a small private institution while meeting the leadership challenges of the office within the current landscape of private higher education? This phenomenological study was conducted with N = 7 presidents (new to office within a bounded timeframe), N = 1 elite interview, supplemental document analyses, interview observations, and guided observation of campus visits. Moustakas’ (1994) thematic analytical strategy was applied to all data sources. Five themes emerged from this study: presidents of small private colleges and universities are dedicated to the substance of their work and do not merely seek the prestige of the office of president (Theme #1), that they are not the ‘saviors’ of their institutions (Theme #2), they bear significant burdens in carrying out their roles—both institutionally and personally (Theme #3), they are steering a course towards sustainability amidst turbulent times (Theme #4), and they are well aware that they, alone, cannot render their institutions successful (Theme #5). The findings highlight the characteristics and strategies of novice presidents at small private institutions and which may advance an understanding of the complexities and uniqueness of the presidential role in this market share. This study may also provide a foundation for understanding the profiles of small private college presidents in the contemporary higher education landscape, and of the formative and influential experiences upon them.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Educational leadership|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Kolomitz, Kara, "The New College President: A Study of Leadership in Challenging Times" (2016). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI10252939.