When you were new to academic administration, were you offered training that helped you manage your new responsibilities? Or did your institution take a sink-or-swim approach to your professional development?

And what about junior-level administrators at your institution? Do you ensure that they have resources they need to address their knowledge gaps?

We recently surveyed deans and provosts about professional development — what they received as new administrators and what they provide on their campuses. We heard from 150 of them.

In this first installment of the results, we reveal what training survey respondents received when they became academic administrators.

Most leaders received informal training

When we asked, “When you took your first position as an academic administrator, what type of training did you receive?” survey respondents said:

Those who chose “other” specified that senior administrators answered their questions, they followed the lead of their predecessor, they took advantage of other deans’ knowledge, and “trial by fire.”

We then asked what training was most important to survey-takers when they began working as academic administrators. The most common response was that gaining experience on the job was the most valuable. Mentoring and networking with other academic administrators were also popular answers, as was “I didn’t receive any training.”

A number of survey takers listed specific topics they were trained on that were particularly useful to them. If you are responsible for providing professional development to others — or if you are just starting out in administration — consider that these are skills you might want to focus on:

  • Supervising faculty.
  • Finance and budgeting.
  • Regulatory/legal matters.
  • Accreditation.
  • Learning to say no.
  • Leadership.
  • Human resources.
  • Conflict resolution.

We also asked, “If you could have had any type of training, on any topic, when you were a new academic administrator, what would you have chosen and why?” The topics mentioned above were named, with budgeting being the most frequent answer. Survey-takers also mentioned the following topics:

  • Accounting.
  • Records management.
  • Registration software. That would enable the respondent to help with students when the officers were especially busy.
  • Shared governance.
  • Curriculum. “Folks interested in administration should attend curriculum meetings on a regular basis to get the method by which curriculum is established and maintained,” the respondent said.
  • Work/life balance.
  • Understanding political dynamics.
  • Data management. One survey-taker said it would be especially useful to know how to use Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System information to break out education costs by student, department, college, etc.
  • Fundraising/external relationships.
  • Labor relations (dealing with unions).
  • Change management.

Some survey takers suggested specific formats they thought would have been most effective for preparing them for their new roles. Most often, they said that formal mentoring, with specific goals and regular check-ins, would have been helpful. Others wished for a yearlong training program with monthly meetings and the opportunity to attend a national conference.

Leaders give training a B-

We asked survey takers, “How would you rate the training you received as a new academic administrator?” They chose grades from A+ to F. The mean — and the most common response — was a B-.

About the respondents

Our survey-takers were about equally divided between deans (including associate and assistant deans) and chief academic officers (including associate or assistant provosts). The majority of them (64 percent) have held positions in higher education, including faculty positions, for 20 or more years. Most are seasoned administrators: 29 percent have held any administrative positions for 8 to 12 years, 33 percent have done so for 13 to 19 years, and 22 percent have been administrators for 20 or more years. The largest number — 37 percent — have held their current positions for 4 to 7 years.