College Business Offices Face Generational Turnover Crisis

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Image Credit: Ryan Cadby

July 10, 2016; Chronicle of Higher Education

According to a recent study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), higher education is ripe for an extensive turnover in chief business officers. Study findings indicate that 43 percent of respondents see their next job transition to be retirement, and 44 percent of that group anticipate retiring in less than four years.

This is not surprising. The median age of those surveyed is 56, well within the parameters of the boomer generation. A 2015 Gallup study indicated that less than half of boomers continued working or seeking employment after age 63. Economics may also play a part in the decision to look to retirement; slightly more than half of survey respondents reported salaries between $150,000 and $300,000 a year, presumably augmented by retirement and pension plan assets.

Women make up 32 percent of the current leadership cadre, while less than 12 percent of chief business officers are members of racial and ethnic minority groups. How this will change in the next decade is unclear, but there is an opportunity for higher education business leadership to become more diverse as the current generation retires.

The bad news for both current leaders and their institutions is that more than a third of survey respondents reported there is no succession plan in place for their role. Since implementing a succession plan can often take more than a year, and higher education institutions aren’t known for their administrative speed, it’s not too soon—and indeed may be too late—for colleges and universities to develop and activate succession plans for their key staff leaders.

The demographic trends outlined in the NACUBO report should give all nonprofit executives and board members pause. What are we doing to identify and prepare the next generation of leaders as so many of the current generation are poised to leave the profession? Is your organization ready for the succession conversation?—Michael Wyland