Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Teaching, Learning, and Leadership

First Advisor

Dr. Van E. Cooley


The number of college and university presidents coming from a career path outside of higher education has seen a steady increase, from just under 10% in1986, to over 15% in 2001 (Corrigan, 2002), yet little is still known about this growing population. This qualitative study examined four current or former presidents of institutions of higher learning in Michigan who were elected to their positions without having experienced the traditional academic career pathcommonly associated with college and university leaders. Four presidents, along with their current or former chief academic officers and two current or former members of the governing boards that appointed these presidents, were interviewed to determine: (1) the factors that motivated these non-traditionalpresidents to seek such appointment; (2) how past experiences benefited such individuals in their role as president; (3) any obstacles that existed; and (4) any significant differences in the leadership qualities necessary to lead an institution of higher education versus those necessary to lead a governmental, non-profit, or private organization.

The most significant findings of the study are: (1) non-academic presidents were usually affiliated in some manner with the institution prior o being named president of that institution; (2) the past experiences of the non-traditional president are no less valuable, and in many respects more valuable, than past experiences of a traditional president; (3) non-traditional presidents bring a "sense of urgency" and "measurables" to the campus community, as well as a different point of view; (4) leadership skills from the public, private, and non-profit sectors are transferable to higher education; (5) there are more similarities than differences between public/non-profit administration and higher education administration; (6) traditional institutions of higher education cannot be operated entirely like a private business, and individuals with non-traditional backgrounds who are considering a move into higher education believing that such institutions can be run like private businesses, will in all likelihood fail; (7) while barriers and obstacles do exist for non-traditional presidents, they can be successfully overcome; (8) non-traditional presidents surround themselves with strong leadership teams; and (9) it is critically important that the person and the institution are a "fit" for one another, with the person embracing the mission, culture, and tradition of the institution.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access