A college president can often be not just the head but the heart of an institution. Their leadership style, temperament, attitudes, and objectives form a major part of how the school that they represent is perceived. And this list will show you which college presidents have been the most effective, the most influential and have the most admiration.
You may not have considered a college’s president in making your university choice but it’s something that should definitely be looked into! If a college has a president with a strong track record of success, whose beliefs align with your own and whose peers respect them, then that’s a sure sign that it’s a college worth attending.
Any of the 50 colleges listed below is a great institution in large part because of its president. The scope of the institutions listed below should offer something of interest to everybody but it’s also possible that you may not find any college that is the right fit for you. If that’s the case, then this article is still useful. It will highlight to you the achievements, the attitudes and the evidence that you should look for in the presidents of your college options. Just ask yourself, how do my potential college presidents compare to these?
To begin our research for this article, we consulted the current sources online that highlight which college presidents are notable. However, we have expanded significantly from these sources and applied the sources’ criteria to a range of respectable colleges and their presidents.
Our initial research sources are as follows:
The Washington Post, Who are the most influential college leaders? https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/college-inc/post/some-of-the-countrys-most-influential-college-leaders/2011/05/16/AFCZ904G_blog.html?utm_term=.b37e9e7a94a0
Time, The 10 Best College Presidents: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,1937938,00.html
The Chronicle of Higher Education, Executive Compensation at Private and Public Colleges: https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/executive-compensation#id=table_private_2016
Forbes, The Highest-Paid Private College Presidents: https://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2017/12/13/the-highest-paid-private-college-presidents-2/#594ac2bf6e67
Washington Monthly, America’s Ten Most Innovative College Presidents: https://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/septoct-2015/americas-ten-most-innovative-college-presidents/
US News,10 Public Universities Run by Highest Paid Presidents: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/slideshows/10-public-universities-run-by-highest-paid-presidents
eCampus News, College presidents share “the best book I’ve ever read”: https://www.ecampusnews.com/2018/06/21/college-presidents-share-the-best-book-ive-ever-read/
Ranker, List of Famous College Presidents: https://www.ranker.com/list/list-of-famous-college-presidents/reference
The final ranking has identified a definitive list of college presidents that have had and continue to have stellar careers. They are sorted by our estimations of the level of achievement, innovative leadership approaches, evidence of positive impact on a college and commitment to a college.
The results, from 50 to one, are below:
50. Austin Community College
Due to Richard Rhodes’s presidency, Austin Community College has really made a name for itself. Particularly, the math curriculum has been improved substantially under his watch, with improved programs and the addition of America’s largest computerized learning lab. Richard Rhodes has also expanded the facilities and reach of Austin Community College. Since becoming president in 2011, he has added three new campuses across Austin. He also makes podcasts that anyone can access on a wide range of educational subject matter, such as putting ideas into action.
49. Clarkson University
Anthony G. Collins
The theme of Anthony G. Collins’s presidency of Clarkson University has been the “evolution to excellence.” Specifically, he has focused on improving the college’s “academic and research reputation, strengthening our financial resources, expanding our world reach and diversity, and increasing the engagement of the alumni.” And since Anthony G. Collins’s assumption of Clarkson University’s presidency in 2003, there is significant evidence that he is achieving those aims. For instance, one in five alumni becomes a CEO, senior executive or company owner.
48. Belmont University
Bob Fisher may well be Belmont University’s single greatest asset. He’s a beloved figure in his home town, Nashville, Tennessee. In fact, he has been named both Tennessean of the Year and Nashvillian of the Year. Over the course of his presidency, which began in 2000, he’s grown Belmont University considerably, growing its enrolled students from 2,970 to 8,300. He encourages everyone that comes to Belmont University to be the best that they can be. These efforts have resulted in great things. For instance, numerous Belmont students are involved with homeless charity work, and Belmont employees raise tens of thousands of dollars per year for local nonprofits.
47. Valencia College
The approach that Sandy Shughart has taken to improving Valencia College is called Classroom First. When Shughart became the college’s president in 2000, he learned that students who perform badly in their first year are much more likely to drop out. Therefore, he focused on improving the teaching and class experiences during the first year (and all subsequent years) to ensure that retention into the second year of study was assured. This approach has been highly successful and graduation rates have skyrocketed by 87%. However, Sandy Shughart splits his time running the college with a successful musical career, which few other college presidents can claim!
46. University of Iowa
J. Bruce Harreld
When J Bruce Harreld became the president of the University of Iowa in 2015, many of the college’s faculty members objected. What made his appointment so controversial was that he had had no experience in leading an educational institution up until that point. Instead, he had enjoyed a long career as a corporate executive. In the 1990s, he transformed IBM from a failing company into a thriving organization. However, J. Bruce Harreld’s transition to the role of college president has been highly successful. Since he took over, the amount of money that the University of Iowa has earned through grants and contracts has increased from $515.8 million to $554 million.
45. Brown University
Christina Hull Paxson
When Christina Hull Paxson became the president of Brown University in 2012, one of the first things she did was turn to students, faculty and staff alike to see what Brown needed to achieve over its next decade. The resulting 10-year strategic plan was approved in 2014 and has so far empowered collaboration between teachers and students, created a new research environment and formed community and real-world based teaching programs. Additionally, thanks to Christina Hull Paxson, Brown University has opened a school for public health, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society and reinvigorated its social sciences department.
44. Southern Methodist University
R. Gerald Turner
There is perhaps no college president that is as dedicated to the South as R. Gerald Turner. He is a Texas native and has been the chancellor of the University of Mississippi and been a senior administrator at the University of Oklahoma. He has also studied at three universities in Texas. But R. Gerald Turner cemented his association with the South in 1995 when he became the Texas-based Southern Methodist University’s president. Since taking on this position, Turner has run gift campaigns that raised over $1.6 billion in funding for student scholarships. Additionally, under Turner’s watch, the minority enrollment of Southern Methodist University has increased to 27%.
43. Northeastern University
Joseph E. Aoun
The current president of Northeastern University is proud of the many innovations he has implemented. Perhaps his proudest achievement is the establishment of educational and research partnerships with 136 countries. Linked to this has been his focus on aligning the college’s research with global imperatives, namely health, security, and sustainability. This approach has led to a larger student enrollment than ever before and a tripling of monetary research awards. His other major focuses are experiential learning, which has led to the integration of the classroom and real-world experiences, and innovation in higher education, which has led to the college teaching students how to react to future innovations in their job market.
42. Dartmouth College
Philip J. Hanlon
Tuition increases have been at their lowest levels since the 1970s ever since Philip J. Hanlon took over as Dartmouth’s president in 2013. He has also been able to secure record levels of donations for the college. This money has been spent on state of the art research and creative projects and facilities. The Irving Institute for Energy and Society, the DEN Innovation and New Venture Incubator and the Society of Fellows have all come into existence thanks to his presidency. Philip J. Hanlon is himself an alumnus of Dartmouth College, which is part of what makes his presidency so beneficial for current students, as he really understands what students go through!
41. Yale University
Even before Peter Salovey became Yale’s president, he had done many proactive and beneficial things for the college. From 2008 to 2013, Salovey served as the college’s provost, where he led strategic planning. In this role, he increased faculty diversity, added career development opportunities, created the Office of Academic Integrity, oversaw the college spanning Committee on Sexual Misconduct and budgeted the college through the recession. In 2013, he was the clear choice to become college president. Since his appointment, Yale has increased in size by 15% and opened two new residential colleges, among achieving many other great things.
40. Rice University
David W. Leebron
When David W. Leebron departed from the faculty of Columbia Law School to lead Rice University, it was a risky move. Leebron had never worked in the south and never been president of a college. However, he has excelled in the role. He took an open and collaborative approach to his presidency, launching a campaign called the Call to Conversation, which asked the Rice community to reexamine the college’s mission and aspirations and how the college should achieve them. These opinions led to a 10 point strategic vision that the college’s board of trustees agreed with unanimously. The result of David W. Leebron’s university-wide sourced vision has resulted in $900 million of new buildings, a deeper connection with the college’s home city of Houston and a range of powerful international relationships.
39. Georgetown University
John J. DeGioia
As a member of the World Economic Forum, the Board of Directors of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education, the Directors of the Forum for the Future of Higher Education and the National Association of Independent Schools, John J. DeGioia’s influence in the world of education and politics goes far. He’s been able to leverage these positions for the benefit of Georgetown University and its students. For instance, he recently raised $1.5 billion for the enhancement of the lifetime value of Georgetown’s degrees.
38. Berkeley College
Michael J. Smith
When Michael J. Smith became the president of Berkeley College in 2015, it was already a world-leading university. However, under his leadership, the college has expanded its expertise to diverse communities. Smith has created a range of programs that aid Latino and African American organizations, which include student coursework and volunteer work. While doing this, Smith has also improved the student support services to aid with career placement. Additionally, in recent years, Berkeley College has earned many best workplace and best employer awards. All in all, Michael J. Smith has improved the lives of many people while making his college much, much better!
37. Eastern Connecticut State University
Thanks to Elsa Nunez’s leadership, Eastern Connecticut State University’s profile has been rising considerably in recent years. Since taking over, US News has listed the college as one of the top 25 public regional universities in the Northern United States. Princeton Review has also considered the college as one of the greenest in the nation for eight consecutive years. Additionally, The Chronicle of Higher Education named Nunez’s college as a great college to work for. Prior to working at Eastern Connecticut State University, Elsa Nunez had a long career as a senior administrator in a range of other colleges. It is thanks to this experience that many of Eastern Connecticut State University’s students go on to enroll in graduate programs at colleges such as Yale, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago and more.
36. University of Alabama at Birmingham
Ray L. Watts
In 2013, the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s board of trustees unanimously voted Ray L. Watts to become the president of the college. He managed to gain such strong support due to the staggering success of his work during the previous 10 years. In 2003, he became the chairman of the college’s Department of Neurology, where he oversaw a range of scientific breakthroughs and implemented them into practical therapy. And in 2010, he became the senior vice president of the college’s School of Medicine, where he created an incredibly effective strategic plan that recruited amazing faculty members and launched life-saving drug discovery research. And since becoming president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Ray L. Watts has continued on his path of success. Today, the college enjoys record levels of enrollment and research funding.
35. Stevens Institute of Technology
Stevens Institute of Technology is nearing the end of Nariman Farvardin’s 10-year strategic plan, which is titled The Future, Ours to Create. So far, the plan has been a complete success. Farvardin’s primary goal has been to make Stevens Institute of Technology “a premier, student-centric, technological research university.” What proves that this is the case is that the college’s undergraduate applications have increased by 157%, enrollment has increased 41%, the graduation rate has climbed to 87% and the six-month graduation employment rate is now 96%. But student enrollment isn’t the only significant increase hat Nariman Farvardin is responsible for. He has also grown annual philanthropic support by 913%!
34. Pennsylvania State University
Eric J. Barron
In 2018, Pennsylvania State University’s leadership agreed to renew Eric J. Barron’s contract as college president until 2022. This extension came about due to him successfully raising $660 million for the college and starting a range of programs that have increased student retention. However, Barron has also created long term initiatives that involve engaging students with global and local businesses. The most successful implementation of these initiatives has been Barron’s establishment of 21 innovation hubs in Pennsylvania. By extending his contract, Eric J. Barron aims to raise significantly more money, improve retention rates further and strengthen student/business collaboration connections.
33. Texas A&M University
Michael K. Young
Michael K. Young began his second university presidency in 2015. Before joining Texas A&M University, he had enjoyed incredible success as the president of the University of Washington. From 2011 to 2015, he was able to make the college the top public university in terms of research funding gained. He was also able to double fundraising and establish many new companies on campus while launching a global innovation partnership with leading Chinese and European universities. Since becoming Texas A&M’s president, Michael K. Young has successfully managed a range of funding initiatives, such as the President’s Excellence Fund, which is a $100 million program to transform learning, discovery, and innovation.
32. Northwestern University
Prior to becoming Northwestern University’s president, Morton Schapiro had forged an identity as one of the leading educational economists. Therefore, he was just the right person to take on the mantle of Northwestern’s presidency in 2009, when America was suffering from the worst recession in a lifetime. Since those difficult economic times, Northwestern’s endowment has increased to $9.8 billion and its annual sponsored research has ballooned to $702.1 million. And in addition to responsibly handling the college’s finances, Morton Shapiro is a powerful ethical voice in America. For instance, when the Trump Administration rescinded the DACA program, Shapiro released a statement condemning the actions and vowing to protect his college’s own undocumented students.
31. Hofstra University
Stuart Rabinowitz has been with Hofstra University for almost 50 years. He first became a faculty member in 1972. But it wasn’t until the year 2000 when he became the president. Rabinowitz has been able to use his extensive knowledge of Hofstra University to quintuple the college’s endowment to $600 million. With this money, Rabinowitz has opened six new schools within the college and dozens of new buildings. Thanks to Rabinowitz’s connections, he has made Hofstra the only college in American history to have presidential debates in three consecutive election cycles, in 2008, 2012 and 2016. He has also won 12 awards, including the Martin Luther King Living the Dream Award.
30. Ohio State University
Michael V. Drake
All of Michael V. Drake’s target goals at Ohio State University have been exceeded. For example, shortly after becoming president, he aimed to raise $400 million by 2020 for the purpose of lowering the costs of tuition and improving the college’s value. But by 2015, the college had managed to raise $1.5 billion for this purpose. Michael V. Drake has also created the President’s Affordability Grant, which pays for the tuition of over 15,000 low-income students. He also pioneered collaboration between Ohio State University and Apple “to create a comprehensive learning initiative to support educational innovation and economic development opportunities.”
29. Drexel University
John J. Fry
Currently in development at Drexel University is Schuylkill Yards. This construction is the latest innovative project of the college’s president, John J. Fry. He is investing $3.5 billion into the project to allow college professors and students to work more closely with existing businesses and create businesses of their own. However, since the start of John J. Fry’s presidency, great things have happened for Drexel. For instance, the college is now affiliated with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and the college has made global connections with China, Turkey, Israel, Brazil, Chile, India, and South Korea. On top of this, fundraising has reached record levels.
28. Simmons University
Helen Drinan has steered Simmons University to new heights over the last decade. But what’s most remarkable about her presidency is that she has had to overcome great personal obstacles while expanding her school. In 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. However, instead of retiring, she chose to remain the college’s president and publicly discuss her battle with cancer. Her motivation was to reduce the stigma that cancer patients suffer from and show how people with the condition can accomplish great things. Over the course of her presidency, Helen Drinan has raised over $100 million for Simmons college and welcomed record numbers of students into its classes.
27. Indiana University
Michael A. McRobbie
The current president of Indiana University has forged a reputation for being low key in his temperament while implementing sweeping changes to his institution. Since assuming the role of president in 2007, Michael A. McRobbie has expanded the “size, quality, and diversity of its student body,” overseen the college’s “largest academic restructuring in its history,” constructed and renovated “more than 100 major new facilities,” and has launched a $3 billion fundraiser, among many other accomplishments. Due to these achievements, McRobbie has won many, many awards, including the International Center’s International Citizen of the Year Award.
26. Case Western Reserve University
Barbara R. Snyder
The early years of Barbara R Snyder’s presidency saw terrible things happen to the world. One year after becoming president, the great recession struck, leading to years of economic downturn globally. But despite this setback, Snyder has been able to continually increase the quality of Case Western Reserve University. In fact, undergraduate applications have tripled and increased funding has meant that the college has built many multi-million dollar, state of the art buildings. And Barbara R. Snyder has ensured that after she steps down as college president, Case Western Reserve University will have the funding to expand and improve for years to come. That is because she recently successfully ran a campaign that raised over $1.5 billion for the university.
25. University of Miami
Although Julio Frenk’s tenure as president of the University of Miami only started relatively recently, in 2015, he has already done incredible things for the college. For instance, in 2017, Forbes ranked the University of Miami as the fifteenth best employer in America. It had never previously ranked on the list. It also ranked as the 44th best college worldwide in Times Higher Education’s 2018 ranking. Prior to his presidency, Julio Frenk had a long and incredibly successful career in government. His single greatest achievement came during the time when he was the minister of health for Mexico from 2000 to 2006. In this position, he created a universal healthcare system for Mexico, ensuring that every single Mexican citizen had access to free, high-quality healthcare for the first time.
24. High Point University
One of Nido Qubein’s most celebrated quotations is “To be a great person, walk hand in hand and side by side with great people.” His presidency of High Point University has certainly practiced that saying. Qubein’s leadership of the college has involved partnering closely with his faculty and staff to deliver the opportunities that his students really need. And he teaches all students, regardless of major, a special class named “The President’s Seminar on Life Skills.” This collaborative, inclusive approach to running a college has had serious results. Since Nido Qubein became the president of the college in 2005, High Point University has seen a 201% increase in undergraduate enrollment, 203% increase in faculty and a 383% increase in campus acreage.
23. Texas Christian University
Victor J. Boschini Jr.
Victor J. Boschini Jr. is undertaking a new phase of strategic planning for Texas Christian University. Victor J. Boschini Jr. has the full confidence in overseeing this project, as his last strategic plan was wildly successful. The Vision in Action plan earned $434 million for the college. This allowed the scholarship opportunities to double and more than a dozen buildings to be constructed. Despite this success, Victor Boschini Jr. is still a relatable and approachable figure. The internet is filled with positive accounts of his interactions with staff and students. For example, one staff member said “I appreciate the Chancellor’s kindness and friendliness. His welcoming spirit embodies TCU’s persona and makes approaching him easy.”
22. Savannah College of Art and Design
While many presidents on this list can claim to be dedicated to their institution, none are as integral to the character of the college as Paula Wallace. That’s because, as well as being the current president, she was one of the co-founders of Savannah College of Art and Design. Since pioneering the college in 1978, Paula has been a key part of its expansion and success. Due to her management, the college has expanded to locations in Atlanta, Hong Kong, and France. However, for the first 22 years of the college’s existence, Paula served as Savannah College of Art and Design’s dean and provost. Finally, in 2000, she took on the presidency. Since becoming president, she has almost tripled the number of attending students, created numerous college events and led to the college topping many respectable university league tables.
21. New York Institute of Technology
When he became the president of New York Institute of Technology in 2000, Edward Guiliano was already a veteran of the school. He has been on the faculty since 1974. And over those 45 years, New York Institute of Technology has gone from strength to strength. In fact, thanks to Edward Guiliano, the college has been a pioneer of the global university concept. Guiliano was the first college president to decide to offer the same degrees over multiple campuses. Following this innovation, Edward Guiliano created lucrative partnerships with Taiwan, Brazil, France, Turkey, and China. And the direct impacts of Edward Guiliano’s leadership of New York Institute of Technology will continue to unfold over the next decade. He spearheaded the next strategic plan, which will steer the college until 2030.
20. Boston University
Robert A. Brown
Perhaps the greatest sign of Robert A Brown’s success as Boston University’s president is that in 2012, the Association of American Universities invited the college to become a member. This group is comprised of the 62 greatest colleges in the US and Canada. This achievement can be traced back to the 18-month process that Brown undertook upon assuming the presidency of Boston University in 2005. This planning resulted in a confident and ambitious 10-year plan named Choosing to be Great. The pillars of this plan were to support Boston University faculty, develop the undergraduate environment, expand the college of arts and sciences, enhance the student experience, strengthen scholarship and research and more. Robert A Brown studied in the University of Texas, Austin, but he moved to Boston in 1979, when he became a faculty member of MIT. Thanks to being in Boston for 40 years, Brown has incredibly strong ties to the city, allowing him to leverage the best opportunities for his students.
19. University of Chicago
Despite having a background in math, Robert Zimmer’s presidency has focused on making the University of Chicago better for students of all disciplines. Since assuming the presidency in 2006, he has increased the resources allocated to doctoral students of all divisions but particularly in humanities and social science. He has also raised the financial aid that undergraduate students can receive and restructured the financial aid system so that low-income family students get a good sum of money from the college that is non-repayable. And Robert Zimmer has also overhauled University of Chicago’s infrastructure, establishing the Institute for Molecular Engineering, the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics and the Urban Education Institute. And perhaps most impressively, Zimmer has grown University of Chicago’s global presence, creating centers in Beijing and Delhi.
18. Wake Forest University
Nathan O. Hatch
Since 2005, Nathan O. Hatch’s presidency of Wake Forest University has achieved five significant things. The first is refining the college’s strategic plan. The second is assembling an incredibly strong leadership team. The third is realigning the business and medicine schools so that they benefit the entire college. The fourth is making standardized tests optional for applicants while developing programs that educate the whole of a person. The fifth is leading the largest fundraising campaign in the college’s history, which earned $600 million two years ahead of schedule. Since those achievements, Nathan O. Hatch has also begun a 10 year, $625 million construction overhaul of the college campus. He also engages in lively conversations with current students and relishes taking feedback from them.
17. Southern New Hampshire University
Paul J. LeBlanc
By embracing innovative enrollment models, Paul J. LeBlanc has expanded and transformed Southern New Hampshire University in ways few could have ever imagined. When he became president in 2003, there were 2,800 students enrolled. Today, that figure stands at 135,000. This number has so drastically increased due to it becoming “the largest nonprofit provider of online higher education in the country.” When Paul J. LeBlanc implemented his online degree programs, many mainstream colleges shunned them. But more and more prestigious institutions have followed Southern New Hampshire University’s lead in the years since. Today, Columbia, Harvard, Cornell, Dartmouth, Yale and many other leading colleges have implemented online programs of a similar nature to Paul J. LeBlanc’s offering.
16. Brandeis University
Ronald D. Liebowitz
Ronald D. Liebowitz’s current presidency at Brandeis University began much more recent than many other college presidents on this list, starting in 2016. However, the role feels like a perfect fit for him. He was attracted to the college, as it had a strong history of inclusiveness, being one of the first colleges in America that made a commitment to non-discrimination. And prior to assuming this presidency, Ronald D. Liebowitz served as the president of Middlebury College for 11 years. During this time, Middlebury, “made enormous academic, programmatic, reputational, and financial strides. He was also able to lead fundraising campaigns that exceeded their financial goals and turned Middlebury college into one of the greenest universities on the planet.”
15. Paul Quinn College
Michael J. Sorrell
It has been 12 years since Michael J. Sorrell took over Paul Quinn College. Looking at it today, it’s hard to believe that until he became president, the college was on the verge of closing down. It was running a huge budget deficit, had only 250 students and had low graduation rates. But a series of radical reforms, which included abolishing the football team, demolishing abandoned buildings and turning the football pitch into a farm, have completely turned the college around. Sorrel himself has become one of the most awarded college presidents in the United States. For instance, Fortune named him one of the 50 greatest leaders in the world. He has also won HBCU Male President of the Year three separate times (the only person to do so.)
14. Columbia University
Lee C. Bollinger
Thanks to Lee C Bollinger’s impact “Columbia stands again at the very top rank of great research universities.” His reforms have been unfolding since he became Columbia University president in 2002. His signature impact upon the college is leading its largest expansion in more than 100 years by building a whole new campus. The West Harlem Campus is a sustainable building and provides many benefits to the New York City community, such as healthcare, education and financial growth. However, Lee C. Bollinger’s expansion of Columbia University is not restricted to New York City. Thanks to his work, Columbia University now has nine global centers on four continents. Prior to becoming Columbia University’s president, Lee C Bollinger served as the president of the University of Michigan for six years.
13. Harvey Mudd College
As the first female president of Harvey Mudd College, Maria Klawe has made it her mission to increase the diversity of her college’s student body. A primary way of accomplishing this is through enrolling and graduating women in STEM degrees. She has been completely successful in this role. In fact, 2016 saw more female than male physics majors and computer sciences majors graduate for the first time in the college’s history. For her barrier-breaking accomplishments as Harvey Mudd’s president, Maria Klawe has earned a range of prestigious awards, including the Epiphany Science Inspiration Award and the Academic Leadership Award.
12. The University of Texas at El Paso
When Diana Natalicio became president of the University of Texas at El Paso, its yearly research funding was $6 million. But over the next 30 years, she was able to increase it significantly to $95 million. However, her other achievements as president of the college are just as impressive. For instance, she has increased enrollment from 15,000 to 25,000 and increased the annual budget from $65 million to $500 million. Additionally, Diana Natalicio is one of the few college presidents who has been in the same position since the 1980s, taking on the role in 1988. She has recently allocated $400 million for new and improved buildings for the University of Texas at El Paso.
11. Spelman College
Beverly Daniel Tatum
When Beverly Daniel Tatum became the president of Spelman College in 2002, she had already enjoyed a wide-ranging and innovative career. She had become one of the most respected authorities on racial issues in America, writing the book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race. This book was named the multicultural book of the year of 1998. And since becoming the president of Spelman College, Beverly Daniel Tatum has continued to empower minority women. For instance, she has created the Center or Leadership and Civic Engagement (LEADS) and established the Women of Color Leadership Conference. Thanks to Tatum’s leadership, Spelman College has doubled its scholarship support and increased its faculty research and development efforts significantly.
10. Prairie View A&M University
Prairie View A&M University is lucky to have Ruth Simmons currently serving as its president. She first became a college president in 1995, when she took on the ninth presidency of Smith College. In 2001, she became the president of Brown University, becoming the first African American president of an Ivy League college. What makes her story even more impressive is that she came from humble origins. She came from a poor family and is the youngest of 12 siblings. Despite this, she excelled academically and managed to succeed while colleges were only beginning to desegregate. Her achievements at Brown University include making it needs-blind in its admissions and leading a fundraising campaign that collected over $1.6 billion. That would be an astounding figure at the best of times, but she ran this campaign in the middle of the great recession, making it an even more incredible achievement. Ruth Simmons has only been president of Prairie View A&M University since 2017. However, she has already laid the foundations to ensure that the college can run for another 140 years.
9. Miami Dade College
Eduardo J. Padron
Running the largest institution of higher education in America is no easy task. And yet Eduardo J. Padron has not only managed this, but also increased the reputation of the school in the process. He became the college’s president in 1995. Since that time, he has established the InterAmerican Campus, the Tamiami Aviation Center, increased the college’s offering to include four year degrees, established an honors college, opened the West Campus, opened the Confucius Institute, opened a new science complex, opened a culinary institute, opened an entrepreneurship and innovation hub, opened a state of the art animation and gaming hub and enrolled over 1 million students. If that weren’t impressive enough, then the college has received international recognition for the quality of its education in a range of respected publications. Thanks to these achievements, Eduardo J. Padron has received the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian in America. President Barack Obama decided to grant Padron the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. But he has also received dozens of other awards for his outstanding work as Miami Dade College’s president.
8. Georgia State University
Mark P. Becker
Washington Monthly considers Mark Becker to be one of the 10 most innovative current college presidents. What has earned Becker this accolade is the way he incorporates data into his college’s education. Becker’s college system analyzes the early grades of students and applies statistical models of how they are likely to perform over the course of study. These results are then used by advisors to guide students on the best possible path for their interests and circumstances. This approach has led to a 22% increase in graduation rates at Georgia State University since Becker became president in 2009. Mark P Becker was himself a first generation college student and has taken his experiences into consideration when planning out his statistical models. In fact, Georgia State University is leading among American colleges in removing the differences in graduation rates between students of separate ethnic or income backgrounds.
7. University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Freeman A. Hrabowski
The current president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Freeman A. Hrabowski, has been in his position for longer than most of the college’s students have been alive. He assumed the presidency in 1992, when the president of the USA was George H.W. Bush. His list of achievements in this time is extensive and wide ranging. Thanks to Hrabowski, University of Maryland, Baltimore County was ranked as US News’s number 1 up and coming university for five consecutive years. He has also ensured that the college is one of the top producers of African American PHD graduates in science and engineering.
6. Arizona State University
Michael M. Crow
Michael M. Crow has been the president of Arizona State University since 2002. And it is thanks to his leadership that the college is now considered one of America’s leading institutions of education. What’s even more commendable is that Crow has achieved that while increasing the diversity of the college’s student body by record levels and maximizing the college’s positive societal impact. Michael M. Crow’s list of achievements at Arizona State University is so long, it’s impossible to fit them all into this article. But some of the best things he’s done include establishing over a dozen trans-disciplinary schools, quadrupling college research expenditures and transforming college infrastructure.
5. Johns Hopkins University
Ronald J. Daniels
In the 10 years of Ronald J. Daniels’s presidency, Johns Hopkins University has earned more money than ever before. When he joined, it had already been the college that was allocated the most research funding for the last 28 years. Not only has Ronald J. Daniels maintained that claim for a further decade, but he has also brought in money from other sources. He created the Rising to the Challenge campaign, which sourced $6 billion by October 2018. And Daniels has also led an innovative new restructuring of how Johns Hopkins University operates. Thanks to Daniels, interdisciplinary collaboration at the college is at an all time high. In fact, Daniels has created a range of programs that encourage professors of different subjects to work together to overcome a range of societal issues.
4. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Shirley Ann Jackson
Shirley Ann Jackson has achieved many incredible firsts throughout her career. Most notably, she is the first African American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT. She is also “the first African-American woman to lead a top-ranked research university.” And since becoming Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s president in 1999, Jackson has had tremendous success. She has been responsible for raising $4 billion for the college, which has built world leading research platforms, an experimental media and performing arts center and the Center for Computational Innovations. In fact, this center currently houses the most powerful supercomputer in any private university. And for her presidency and scientific achievements, President Barack Obama awarded Shirley Ann Jackson the National Medal of Science.
3. University of Pennsylvania
Amy Gutmann is contracted to serve as University of Pennsylvania’s president until at least 2022. Even if she doesn’t extend her presidency after this point, she will still have been the longest-serving president in the college’s history. Gutmann began her presidency in 2004. At the time, she outlined a bold new agenda for the college. Its three core tenets were inclusion, innovation and impact. In the 15 years since this vision, much has been done to see its successful implementation. The college “has provided students and their families with more than $1.4 billion in grants” since 2009, making it the largest needs based financial aid program in America. Amy Gutmann has also opened three innovation centers and raised over $5 billion for the college.
2. Trinity Washington University
2019 marks the 30th year in which Patricia McGuire has been president of Trinity Washington University. However, her roots with Trinity Washington College go back much further than this. She attended the college as a student, graduating in 1974. And today, her influence stretches from Trinity College and into the heart of government. Washington Magazine has named her one of the 100 most powerful women in Washington DC. Since becoming president of the college, McGuire has seen its enrollment double, built the Trinity Center for Women and Girls in Sports and has raised considerable funds.
1. West Virginia University
E. Gordon Gee
Time considers E. Gordon Gee to be America’s greatest current president. When that article was written, he was the president of Ohio State University. However, in 2013, he retired from this position and has since had a successful tenure as the head of West Virginia University. What puts E. Gordon Gee ahead of all the competition is that there has never been an American with more college president experience. He has been the president of more universities than any US citizen, living or dead. And the other colleges that he has run are all prestigious. Namely, they are Vanderbilt, Brown, and the University of Colorado. And his current presidency of West Virginia University is also notable, as it is the second time that he has held that post. Initially, he was president of the college from 1981 to 1985. He resumed the presidency in 2014. And lastly, what makes E Gordon Gee truly remarkable is that despite his distinguished career, he still takes time to consider every student’s needs. In fact, he makes “it a point to visit students where they live, learn and socialize.”