How To Become A College Dean?

By Amanda HoyleJanuary 7, 2022
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Amanda Hoyle
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
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The term Dean is commonly used in the academic field for heads of high schools or colleges. In the US, however, it is used more commonly in universities while the term principal is used in high school.

The organizational structure of universities involves a series of positions starting from the governing board to the students. The governing board possesses fundamental authority over the college or university. The president is the executive officer with the highest ranking; also known as a chancellor in universities- this is the leadership presiding over the administrative and academic bureaus and working with the provost and CFO (Chief Financial Officer). A college is under the leadership of a dean. Each college has members ranked from Professor to associate and assistant professor.

The administrative staff and students are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Academic Deans are academic leaders with managerial responsibilities for achieving the vision of the college. They oversee to ensure that each college staff meets its goal towards effectively educating the students. They collaborate with other college staff to ensure that the vision is unabridged. College deans earn about $53 per hour and $110,000 annually on average.

A dean in most college institutions is a tenured Professor from one of the college departments. Usually, this Professor has to pause his/her teaching and research responsibilities till the end of their tenure as dean. Under the dean of the college are several assistants and an associate dean. Many colleges have both academic dean and dean of students. The dean of students presides over student affairs; being a liaison between students and the college institution. The academic dean has responsibility for an individual school but the dean of students has a role in student support.

What Does A College Dean Do?

Oversee Advancement And Growth

Deans oversee college advancements by coordinating staff recruitment, and student retention. This is one of their significant responsibilities as this has an impact on the smooth functioning of the college.

The academic dean coordinates mostly the achievement of the academic vision of the college, and the dean of students advocates and supports students in all capacity as they get educated. 

Academic deans filter through qualified candidates to get the best staff for the college and also work closely with the admissions office and dean of students to promote student retention. College deans provide expert advice on curriculum adjustment and setting the standard for enrollment. They are like mentors for the faculty, its staff and students; giving regular consultations from an expert point of view toward meeting college guidelines and vision. They provide recommendations to the provost for faculty members due for promotion/end of tenure. Deans create initiatives that boost a positive working environment among students and college staff alike.

Manage Academic Programs

Academic deans are positioned to collaborate with the university president on establishing the academic vision of the college. The academic dean is vital in deciding the classes that will be a part of a study track or courses included in a course catalog. Deans collaborate with external stakeholders or organizations and alumni towards partnerships that will benefit the college and its students. They develop criteria for student enrollment into their college. This might include deciding which classes can count toward a study track, as well as which courses should be included in a course catalog. They collaborate with other academic leaders in the university to establish university-wide interdisciplinary initiatives. 


A college dean is positioned as a liaison between students, their parents, university faculty and the university’s leadership. They also have disciplinary roles, handling complaints as regards harassment or cheating etc on the part of the student or college staff. The dean delegates in situations like this while abiding by the school’s rules and policies.


The college requires funds to be run properly. Deans have the duty of developing strategies for raising funds and also implementing them. It could be from philanthropic sources such as donations from organizations. Some college dean's host fundraising dinners for this cause. These funds are necessary to drive college initiatives towards development and growth.

Other individuals and administrative staff of the university are likely to be involved in this as well, but the dean has to know about financial planning to be able to approve budgets. The dean of students usually has a good relationship with the alumni, for access to funds that can be used to support students in the college.

How To Become A Dean And Steps To Take

If you have an interest in becoming a dean, education is one important aspect to consider. Most College deans have a bachelor’s degree and some have even an additional masters degree or higher. 

The path to becoming an academic dean can look different for everyone. Professor Matt Waller of Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas became a dean at his Institution in May 2016. Before this, he had experience in the non-academic field. Then his path in the University of Arkansas was from assistant professor all the way up to associate professor and then directors of some college programs. After a while, he became an interim dean whilst being a professor until he got promoted to the role of College of Business Dean. He has  degrees up to PhD in business.

Dean at Rutgers School of Nursing, Professor Linda Flynn became dean in the year 2020. She has degrees in nursing up to PhD and has worked in one position or the other in the academic field from assistant professor all the way up to Professor and interim dean. Her career path in the academic line started in 2003.

Dean at College of Humanities and Fine arts at Chaminade University of Honolulu, Professor Cheryl Edelson, has had degrees up to PhD in English Language and Literature. She has had some experience in the college as an assistant professor and then has accelerated in her career to be a Professor before being the Dean of the college.

From the career paths of these college academic Deans, one similarity we see is that they have a degree higher than a bachelor’s. Their degree major is usually related to the courses in the college they work in. Some experience in college is required and most of them are Professors.

Experience outside of the academic line may or may not be relevant to their positions as dean, but substantial experience in education is important. These Professors discussed above had a minimum of 15 years of experience in education before becoming a college dean.

The path to becoming a dean at a college is different for everyone as said earlier, some transition into the academic line, some start as administrative staff in a college etc.

It is most common for a transition from an instructor to dean. One of the duties of an instructor is to maintain discipline in the classroom and cause order among students as they are being taught. Once you become a Dean, your duty to maintain order expands for a larger group of people. You oversee the department and its staff,  ensuring that the entire college holds up to the values laid out. The strategic decisions made by a college dean affects every staff and student in their scope of responsibility. It is a lot of responsibility, and it is no surprise it takes time and strategic steps to walk your way up there. Some of the things to consider in your journey include:

Active Participation

Walking your way up will require a vast social network. Be active in as many activities as possible from your college education; join a student organization, take up roles in these organizations. Gain some experience that builds managerial skills or even work/intern for your college institution.

Even on your journey to being a Professor and afterwards, it is imperative that you keep on building your social network and exhibit skills that are important for leadership positions. Your engagement in educational initiatives or programs show that you are passionate about education and have so much experience in it to bring a positive change if you’re placed in a leadership position. Depending on your institution and interest, you should participate in areas that you want a role in. For instance, if your institution has roles for both dean of students and academic deans- you need to participate more in activities related to your interest. If you want to become a dean of students, show interest in student advocacy. If it is in academics, show interest in academic leadership.

Expect Challenges

It takes time to get a leadership role in any field, and education is not an exception. It all starts from graduating college and scaling your way up to become a Professor. It is no easy feat to become a dean. If you know early on in High School about your desire to become a dean, you can carve out your career early on in that direction. For instance, getting your bachelor’s degree with enough research experience so you can get your PhD directly without taking extra years to get a master’s degree- this scales up the process and you can move on to be a professor early. Becoming a dean in a college can be competitive, as many Professors from different departments might be qualified. So, you don’t just walk your way up to becoming a professor, you ensure you have qualities that stand you out in the process.

Yes, it takes a lot of time and definitely effort to become a Dean, however it is a noble and rewarding career. The opportunity to influence various kinds of people in their journey of educating others or getting educated is a great one. Any career in the education field is highly impactful- as education will impact generations, and being a part of that generational impact in even a little way is beautiful.

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Amanda Hoyle
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
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