5 higher ed leaders to watch in 2017 (and beyond)

Experts at doing more with less and bridging divides in academe, these administrators are shaking up the industry

The office of the college president has seen high rates of turnover of late, a testament to the increasing stressors of the job. Leaders are being asked to do more with less, in many instances themselves donning additional hats because of budget shortfalls. They are fundraisers, lobbyists, spokespersons, sometimes they are even professors. Defenders of the relevance of the higher education enterprise. Liaisons with industry. They are fielding attacks on the industry from people who say the cost of higher education is too high, but who often don't have solutions to decreased state funding or projected declines in philanthropy or endowment returns. Rankings and metrics and federal scorecards have put increased pressure on institutions to bolster student success and employment outcomes, but there has been little to come by way of additional resources to support these initiatives. 

Despite all of the demands of the presidency, there are many leaders who are not only managing to stay afloat, but are thriving and paving the way for innovation not only at their institutions, but in the surrounding communities. These five leaders in higher education are not only getting the job done, but re-imagining the model of what a successful college president is to be.

Javier Miyares, University of Maryland University College

Javier Miyares leads the only public, separately accredited, fully online university in the country. In recent years, the institution has managed to increase enrollment by 20% while spending 20% less on advertising, thanks to an advanced model of data analytics, which UMUC has been able to market to other institutions to help generate revenue.

With a heavy focus on teaching, and free of a lot of the traditional university weights — Miyares is proud of a professoriate heavily comprised of industry professionals and not tenure-track academicians — the institution is plowing ahead with a model that is heavily focused on producing employable graduates. Partnerships with local school districts and with the federal Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Defense boost UMUC’s footprint in the D.C. metro area, and in the national workforce.

Pradeep Khosla, University of California San Diego

In an environment in which many are struggling to meet enrollment targets, UCSD is currently boasting record-high freshman applications, with the San Diego Union Tribune reporting nearly 90,000 freshman applications for Fall 2017 — a 5% jump from last year.

Under Chancellor Pradeep Khosla’s guidance, the institution — which is well on its way to being a first-class research university — just announced plans to begin construction on  a $42 million, 66,000-square-foot facility in downtown San Diego that will serve as an “Innovative Cultural and Education Hub.” He was recently appointed to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and will provide council on entrepreneurship, workforce development and innovation to help drive national policy.

Drew Faust, Harvard University

Harvard is often seen as an exemplar of “getting it right” in higher ed and much of the credit has to land at the feet of President Drew Faust. Despite recently reported “disappointment” over the decision not to label the school a sanctuary campus, Faust has ramped up advocacy efforts in Washington on behalf of undocumented students, and Harvard has consistently led the charge on diversity and access for underrepresented students.

This has not in any way jeopardized the top-tier research and academic productivity expected of an Ivy league institution; Faust is also kicking up advocacy efforts around protecting science research funding in uncertain times.

Tristan Denley, Tennessee Board of Regents

Tennessee Board of Regents Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Tristan Denley is often credited for the transformative approach to remedial education in the state’s higher education system. In the state, developmental courses are taken concurrently with credit-bearing courses, which has boosted completion rates tremendously. Something of an innovator of growth mindset at the collegiate level, Denley believes that a co-requisite model makes students believe they belong in college, and therefore encourages them to enroll and persist despite challenges in preparedness levels.

In addition to re-imaging remediation, Denley has been laser focused on identifying and removing the barriers which prevent students from completing college. For example, he developed an analytics-based program which recognized that putting off declaring a major could decrease the likelihood of completion, and sought to pair students with courses that matched their interests and abilities to make individualized recommendations about which programs to pursue.

Tashni-Ann Dubroy, Shaw University

Shaw University President Tashni Ann Dubroy sometimes credits her unusual path to the presidency — she was a corporate research scientist, who later taught and served as a department chair before ascending to the institution’s top office — for her ability to get things done. Often praised for her conservative approach to fiscal affairs, she led the institution to a record-setting fundraising year in 2015 and helped close a $4 million fundraising gap. Following her appointment in August 2015, the institution reversed a six years-long decline in enrollment, reporting a 15% increase of new and returning students.


Shaw University is currently partnering with Google to establish a distance learning innovation hub in downtown Raleigh, NC, which will support small businesses in the area and promote collaboration between the university and the surrounding community. Dubroy was recently named the second-most influential president of 2016 by HBCU Digest.

Follow on Twitter

Filed Under: Higher Ed