A college dean is a highly respected and influential position within the academic world. If you have experienced university life, you know that college deans are admirable and aspirational positions revered by students and professors alike.
To become a postsecondary education dean, you need to have extensive experience in higher education, as well as strong, soft skills across a variety of areas. You will also need to demonstrate the ability to collaborate with faculty members, work with students, and manage budgets effectively.
Before diving into the ins and outs of how to become a college dean, take some time to understand the role more in-depth, including education and experience requirements, different types, career outcomes, and more.
What Is the Role of a Dean?
A dean is a senior administrator within an academic institution, usually working at the college or university level. According to O*NET Online, a dean is a postsecondary administrator who typically oversees one or more departments within their school. They may be responsible for budgeting, curriculum development, faculty hiring and evaluation, student recruitment and retention, academic policies, and more.
In addition to administrative duties, deans are deeply involved in the day-to-day life of their academic institutions. They may teach classes or serve as mentors and advisors to students, and they typically have a deep knowledge of their areas of specialization. As such, deans are often called on to speak at conferences and workshops, publish books or research papers, and serve on academic committees.
What Are the Requirements to Become a Dean?
Becoming a college dean is no small task, and you should expect to devote extensive time to education and experience. O*NET Online and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cite varying requirements for postsecondary education administrators, which includes college deans. O*NET Online suggests most postsecondary education administrator positions require graduate school, along with at least five years of experience. Per the BLS, you typically need a master’s degree — with some positions only requiring a bachelor’s degree — along with several years of experience.
What Are the Different Types of College Deans?
There are many different types of deans within higher education. Here are a few examples, explained by the career site ZipRecruiter:
- Dean of students: Oversees student life on campus, addressing issues such as student housing, student organizations and activities, tutoring services, athletic programs, and career counseling.
- Dean of admissions: Is responsible for recruiting new students to the college or university. They may have a team of admissions officers who visit high schools and attend college fairs; and they may also interview prospective students, review applications, and make admissions decisions.
- Dean of the faculty or school: This is one of the highest-level academic positions at a university or college. Deans are typically responsible for faculty hiring and evaluation, staff support such as IT services and library resources, and the academic programs within their schools.
What Soft Skills and Traits Make a Successful Dean?
While the BLS and O*NET Online may list slightly different requirements for becoming a college dean, both list similar skills required to be successful in the role. Included below are 10 non-technical skills you may want to brush up on before submitting a job application for a college dean position.
- Strong leadership abilities: Because a dean is responsible for managing and motivating staff, faculty members, and students, strong leadership skills are essential. This includes setting clear goals and expectations and then motivating others to achieve them.
- Excellent communication skills: As a college dean, it’s important to effectively communicate with all members of the school community, including faculty, staff, students, and parents. This includes being able to listen carefully and communicate clearly and effectively in both written and verbal formats.
- Strong networking skills: A key part of a dean’s job is to build relationships with others in the field. Not only are strong networking skills essential for professional development purposes, but also to successfully help the school reach its goals.
- Ability to motivate others: In addition to fostering relationships with others, a college dean must also be able to motivate and inspire others around them, whether they are faculty members, staff members, or students. This includes providing guidance and support as well as setting clear goals and expectations.
- Negotiation skills: As the leader of an institution, a college dean often negotiates with other universities or colleges to attract top faculty members or students to their school.
- Ability to prioritize tasks: To effectively manage a college or university, a dean must prioritize tasks and responsibilities in order of importance, which includes maintaining a balance between administrative duties and academic work.
- Critical-thinking skills: Because college deans are often responsible for making important decisions regarding faculty hiring, budgeting, and other matters, strong critical-thinking skills are essential. This includes the ability to evaluate different options and implement solutions that will best serve the needs of the school community.
- Knowledge of higher education administration: To be successful as a college dean, it’s important to have an in-depth understanding of how colleges and universities work, including their roles within academia and society at large, and knowledge of policies, procedures, and best practices for higher education administration.
- Financial literacy: Deans are typically responsible for managing the school’s budget, so it is essential to have strong financial skills to ensure funding is allocated wisely and used effectively.
- Passion for your field of study: As a college dean, it is essential to be passionate about your field of study and have a deep understanding of the issues and challenges facing both students and educators in that discipline. This passion will help you connect with others in the field, as well as inspire students to pursue their academic goals.
What Technical Skills Should a College Dean Have?
A college dean should have a wide range of technical skills to be successful. O*NET Online suggests you fine-tune the ability to use tools for online communication and collaboration — such as email, video conferencing, and project management software to stay connected and collaborate with colleagues, students, and other stakeholders. This includes being able to set up meetings and video conferences as needed, as well as track projects and tasks according to specific timelines and deliverables.
Additionally, effective deans must have strong computer skills, including proficiency with word processing programs, spreadsheets, and other software. This includes learning how to use these programs for data collection, organization, analysis, and reporting purposes to manage school operations more effectively.
Finally, it’s important for a college dean to understand how various software programs can support administrative functions within the institution. Overall, having a solid grasp of technology is essential for success in this position. Read on for more details about technical skills needed to become a college dean.
- Data analysis and reporting tools: Deans are often responsible for managing data related to student records, course offerings, and other administrative functions within the institution. This requires a strong understanding of how to use data analysis and reporting tools in order to make sense of large amounts of information and generate reports that can be used to make important decisions about the school.
- Website creation and management: Deans are often responsible for maintaining their institution’s website, including creating new pages and updating existing content as needed. This requires a solid understanding of web design principles as well as technical expertise in using content management software, such as WordPress or Drupal.
- Social media and online marketing skills: Deans may need to use social media and online marketing tools in order to promote the school and engage with students, parents, alumni, and other key stakeholders. This includes using platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as utilizing email marketing tools or running paid advertising campaigns on sites like Google AdWords.
- Technology platforms for administrative duties: Deans often need to use technology platforms to support various administrative functions within the school, such as managing student records or keeping track of course offerings.
- Data security protocols: Deans are responsible for ensuring the security of sensitive data within their institution, such as student records, financial information, and research findings. This requires a strong understanding of data security protocols and best practices for protecting information from hackers or other cyber threats.
- Emerging technology tools: As technology continues to evolve, it is important for deans to stay up-to-date on emerging trends, such as new software or hardware that could help improve school operations. This might include learning about how technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used to enhance teaching and research outcomes, for example.
What Is the Salary Potential for a College Dean?
The salary for a college dean can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the type and size of the institution, as well as work experience. Those working in private universities may earn higher salaries than those employed at public colleges or community colleges. Additionally, many deans receive additional benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans that can further increase their overall earnings.
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for postsecondary education administrators, in general, was $96,910 in May 2021. Additionally, the BLS reported at state, local, and private levels, college, and university deans earned an average salary of $98,180 during this same time period. College deans at the junior college level earned $94,120 on average.
On top of their base salaries, deans may also receive bonuses or incentives based on performance metrics such as student retention rates. Additionally, many colleges and universities provide deans with additional perks such as expense accounts or paid memberships to professional organizations.
Overview of How to Become a College Dean
In summary, the role of a college dean is to oversee faculty members and student life at an academic institution. There are many different types of deans within higher education, including deans of students, admissions, and the faculty or school at large. The path to becoming a dean can be long and challenging, as the position is highly competitive. You will likely need to earn an advanced degree in your field of study and gain at least several years of experience working as a professor or other academic administrator in an academic environment. Finally, make sure that your own academic background is strong. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, becoming a college dean is certainly possible. Just remember that it won’t happen overnight, so be patient and persistent as you work toward your goal.