- Most provosts were some level of dean before taking on the role, and they usually either return to the faculty or ascend to the presidency upon leaving that position, according to data compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Of 201 current and former provosts surveyed across 60 Association of American Universities member institutions on their roles over the last decade, the majority were white, about three-fourths were male and about half had STEM Ph.D.s.
- Provosts often see their career opportunities split, forcing them to choose between staying close to faculty (possibly even conducting research) and taking on more administrative tasks. While more than 100 were deans prior to becoming provosts, 47 became faculty members and 41 became college presidents after leaving the provost's job.
As the role of college president changes, so too does that of its second-in-command. Provosts are expected to have skills that complement those of the president, notes a 2017 report from Deloitte about the changing expectations of higher ed leadership. "The provost is no longer simply regarded as the No. 2 person on campus," its authors explain.
As a result, the report explains, stepping into the presidency — which itself is an externally facing role requiring the ability to raise funds, navigate political issues and manage expectations of competing stakeholders — is no longer a given for provosts. In fact, just one-third of chief academic officers (CAO) aspire to be a college president, according to research from the American Council on Education (ACE).
In its latest presidents survey, ACE found about one-fifth of college leaders served in a chief executive role immediately prior. Meanwhile, some one-third were CAOs or provosts in their last jobs.
More provosts than deans make their next step into the presidency at large institutions than at small ones, according to Deloitte. Additionally, while a larger share of women (82%) than men (57%) move from provost to president, a larger share of men (43%) than women (18%) jump from dean to president.
The president position has been in the spotlight in recent months due to several high-profile resignations and the shifting pressures on the person whose job is to be the public face of their college or university. CAOs also face competing priorities. And sometimes they see them as deviating from their job description.
It's no secret the job of provost or CAO can lack clear responsibilities, even though nearly all colleges and universities have such a position. That can manifest in tension between those who think the role should advocate for the faculty and those who think it is responsible for setting a broader vision for the institution.
According to ACE research, CAOs felt presidents were counting on them for tasks like enrollment management, budgeting and supervising more than they thought they should be. Meanwhile, they felt their role in setting academic vision was more critical. CAOs said they spend most of their time on academic oversight, supervising deans and other staff, and handling accountability and accreditation issues. Nearly half (47%) said finances were their biggest stressor.