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College Leaders Worry Most About Finances, Chronicle Study Finds

By Karen Arenson

College presidents are more preoccupied with financial issues than educational ones, according to a new survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The presidents said they believed they were judged slightly more on whether they had a balanced budget than for the quality of educational programs. Five of the six top concerns they cited related to money: rising health care costs, rising tuition, financial aid, technology costs and inadequate faculty salaries. The sixth was retaining students.

“While the job of college president is often still filled by former provosts, their top priority these days is more akin to that of a chief financial officer,” The Chronicle says in its Nov. 4 issue, available this week.

The survey, sent to the presidents or chancellors of 1,338 four-year colleges over the summer, drew 764 responses, or 57 percent. It was conducted for The Chronicle by Maguire Associates, of Bedford, Mass.

Jeffrey Selingo, the Chronicle editor who oversaw the study, said he did not know of any other study of college presidents that looked as broadly at their jobs, their political views and their personal lives. He said the sample was representative of all presidents at colleges that grant bachelor’s degrees.

Discussing daily activities, more than half of the presidents, 53 percent, said they spent part of every day on fund-raising. The next most frequently mentioned daily activity was budget and finance matters (44 percent). Only 41 percent said they dealt with educational leadership on a daily basis. Even fewer presidents, 28 percent, — said they attended to student life matters every day.

A similar tilt toward business was reflected in the people with whom the presidents met. Almost half, 49 percent, said they met daily with their chief financial officer, only slightly less than the 53 percent who said they met daily with their provost, the person usually regarded as the top academic officer. And 43 percent said they met daily with their chief fund-raiser. Only 18 percent said they talked to their head of student affairs every day.

Many college presidents “have an obsession, day in and day out, with things related to finance,” John Maguire, chairman of Maguire Associates, said in the article.

Of the presidents who answered the survey, 41 percent said they were registered as Democrats, 22 percent as independents and 19 percent as Republicans. But 56 percent said they voted for John Kerry and 28 percent for George W. Bush.

Although there has been growing representation of women in top jobs on many campuses, The Chronicle said the president was still usually a man who was at least 50 years old, white and Christian. Despite the emphasis on financial matters, nearly a fifth of the presidents said the facet of their jobs they were least prepared for was fund-raising. Eleven percent said the part they were most unprepared for was dealing with legislators and other political issues. And 11 percent pointed to budgetary issues as their Achilles’ heel when they became presidents.