The Longevity of Education Deans

Shelley B. Wepner & William A. Henk

The professional literature on the lifespan of education deans in their positions indicates that they serve in the role four to six years on average. We discovered a similar finding when we conducted a study through AACTE about education deans’ perceptions of essential characteristics for contributing to their success. More than two-thirds had been in their current position for five years or less (Wepner et al., in press). By the same token, though, we found that one-third of the education deans stayed in their positions much longer. These findings piqued our interest in the construct of longevity in the education deanship and inspired us to conduct a qualitative study, with the assistance of AACTE, of the factors contributing to the length of time education deans remain in office. 

We believed that the construct deserved study because endurance in this demanding administrative capacity would presumably exert an impact on the welfare of schools and colleges of education. In a related vein, resilience as an education dean would seem to signify a reasonable indicator of sustained effectiveness, while brevity in the job might suggest the reverse. We also pursued the construct with the understanding that the roles and responsibilities of education deans, while resembling other academic deans, do present some markedly unique challenges that might affect longevity, and that there would be value for those in positions to affect education deans’ tenures positively, whether central administrators, peers, faculty or staff, to better understand the factors that promote longevity.        

In October and November of 2018, AACTE invited deans from its membership to complete the survey through Ed Prep Matters, a direct email request, and a reminder message. Some 181 standing education deans who had served for five or more years responded to a 12-item online survey that probed their perspectives on the professional and personal benefits of their longevity, the effect on their institutions, factors furthering or compromising their time in office, and the perceived optimal term to stay in the position.

A multi-faceted conceptualization, job satisfaction, emerged from the qualitative analyses as the primary reason education deans chose to continue in their roles. It emerged as a function of the perceived support they felt they had to affect and sustain meaningful change, and of feeling trusted to deliver effective leadership and provide continuity for their various shareholders, while enjoying their camaraderie. They believe in their institutions and in the people with whom they work. Moreover, they believe that they are providing stability for their schools and colleges, while satisfying their own personal needs. Noteworthy impediments to longevity and advice for new deans were revealed by the study itself, which can be found in the journal, Tertiary Education and Management (Wepner & Henk, 2020).

As a next step in our research, we will embark on quantitative study of longevity, this time surveying a full range of academic deans in partnership with the American Conference of Academic Deans (ACAD) and the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences (CCAS).

Shelley B. Wepner is dean and professor of the School of Education at Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY. She began as an education dean at this institution in 2004 and has been studying various facets of the education deanship since 2002.

William A. Henk is dean and professor in the College of Education at Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI.  He has served as an academic administrator in higher education for over three decades and began studying the education deanship in 2012.   



Wepner, S. B., & Henk, W. A. (2020). Education deans’ perspectives on factors contributing to their longevity. Tertiary Education and Management.

Wepner, S. B., Henk, W. A., Lovell, S.E., & Anderson, R. D. (in press). Education deans’ ways of thinking, being, and acting: An expanded national survey. Journal of Higher Education Management.

Shelley B. Wepner is Dean and Professor of the School of Education at Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY. She began as an education dean at this institution in 2004 and has been studying various facets of the education deanship since 2002.

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Shelley B. Wepner

Manhattanville College (NY)

William Henk

Marquette University (WI)