Examining Leadership Turnover Rates In Higher Education Over the Past Decade

Leadership stability is not just a desirable trait in higher education, it is a necessity. It ensures continuity in strategic direction, fosters institutional culture, and supports long-term goals. However, turnover in key executive positions can disrupt these aspects, potentially leading to a loss of direction and a shift in institutional culture. This article examines the trends in leadership turnover in higher education over the past decade, focusing on ten top executive positions from 2014 to 2024.

Scope and Objective

We analyze the turnover rates of the following positions: Presidents (of both stand-alone and branch campuses), Chief Academic Officers, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Operations Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Human Resources Officers, Chief Student Life Officers, Directors of Admissions, Chief Advancement Officers, and Chief Alumni Affairs Officers. The objective is to understand the trends and implications of leadership turnover in these critical roles.

Summary of Overall Changes

From 2014-2024, the number of changes in these positions has varied significantly. Our data shows fluctuations in turnover rates , with certain periods experiencing higher instability.

A comparative analysis of the turnover rates in two-year intervals reveals several patterns:

  • A notable increase in turnover from 2016-2018, peaking at 20.70%.
  • A decline in turnover rates from 2018-2022, indicating a period of relative stability.
  • An increase again in 2022-2024, reaching the highest turnover rate of 21.40%.

These trends suggest various periods of stability and instability, potentially influenced by external factors such as economic conditions, political protests, DEI bans, and other policy changes.

Detailed Analysis By Position

While we won’t get into the fine details in this post, our data can also be broken down by position.  Our information indicates that the turnover rates for presidents show fluctuations, with a peak in 2016-2018 (23.33%) and a slight decline by 2022-2024, which suggests some stabilization in recent years.

We see an increasing trend in CFO turnover rates, which may reflect the financial challenges institutions face, among other implications.

Our HigherEd Direct database can provide more information regarding the turnover rates by position.

Overall Insights & Institutional Implications

Over the past decade, the leadership landscape in higher education has seen significant shifts. Our analysis of the turnover rates for top executive positions from 2014 to 2024 reveals several critical insights:

  • Fluctuating Turnover Rates: Turnover rates have experienced notable peaks and troughs, with a marked increase during 2016-2018 and 2022-2024. These fluctuations highlight periods of instability followed by relative stability.
  • Position-Specific Trends: Different leadership roles have experienced varying turnover rates. For instance, Chief Academic Officers and Chief Human Resources Officers have consistently high turnover rates, reflecting ongoing challenges in academic leadership and talent management. Conversely, positions like Chief Operations Officers and Chief Alumni Affairs Officers have shown more stability.
  • Overall Trends: The aggregate data across all positions (MPC ALL) reveals cyclical turnover patterns, with peaks potentially correlating with broader economic and policy changes affecting higher education.

The broader implications of leadership turnover in higher education underscore the need for stability and strategic management of leadership transitions. Continuous analysis and proactive measures are essential to fostering a stable and thriving academic environment. As institutions navigate the complexities of leadership changes, prioritizing stability, strategic planning, and effective succession management will be crucial for long-term success and growth.

Encouraging ongoing analysis and proactive management of leadership transitions can help institutions remain resilient and adaptable in an ever-changing landscape. By addressing the factors contributing to leadership turnover, higher education institutions can build a strong foundation for future success.


Looking for more college and university leadership data? HEP can help! Our HigherEd Direct database contains accreditation details, contact information, and other metrics on over 4,400+ institutions and 89,000+ school administrators nationwide.


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