How to Become an Academic DeanHow to Become an Academic DeanHow to Become an Academic Dean

Education is the cornerstone of society. In “The Purpose of Education,” an article in the Morehouse College campus newspaper in 1947, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.” Education professionals at all levels, from faculty members to academic leaders, work diligently to ensure that every student receives a valuable education. Academic deans have a central role as leading members of academic institutions who work with their staffs to create and execute educational directives.

professionally dressed man carrying a folder stands outside an academic building

Beyond the typical steps required for attaining the position of academic dean at a university, college, or other academic organization, there may be additional training, education, certification, or experience required that is dependent upon the employer, organization, or nature of the position.

What Does an Academic Dean Do?

The responsibilities of an academic dean can vary by university. Academic deans may lead or develop educational strategies for a specific school within their university. They may also work in an administrative capacity, overseeing or collaborating with other members of faculty, staff, and the student body. On the academic side, deans take an active role in developing educational plans with professors, carrying out these plans, and determining the effectiveness of the programs in each individual department.

Another major function of an academic dean is managing all aspects of the staff for his or her school within a university. It is the dean’s responsibility to hire new faculty members, evaluate the progress and effectiveness of current staff, and fire staff members when necessary. The dean also establishes standards for each department that are in line with the overall vision of the university or college and continually reviews faculty and academic performance to ensure that these standards are met.

Academic deans can also have enrollment and business-related duties associated. Their role can encompass recruiting new students and marketing academic programs. They must also monitor budget concerns for each department.

The overall scope of a dean’s duties depends on the size of the institution. For larger universities, academic deans may be in charge of overseeing each school, such as the business school, while at smaller colleges, multiple activities may fall under one department or committee.

Steps for Becoming an Academic Dean

To become an academic dean, education professionals are typically required to have advanced degrees and extensive experience in education. The requirements to become a dean can vary by school. Some universities might have more strict requirements about who is eligible to become a dean, such as applicants must hold tenure within a university for a certain amount of time. Other deans may be appointed on the basis of their past professional accomplishments.  A master’s degree is often required, although whether that degree needs to be in a specific field can depend on a university’s specific requirements for the position. While a master’s degree in education may benefit those seeking this position, degrees in a range of different disciplines, such as business, marketing, and social work, are also sufficient in some cases.

Academic deans are also often required to hold a doctorate in higher education or a similar field. For example, they may hold an online Doctor of Education, which helps education professionals attain skills and insight in the administrative, policy, and budgetary aspects of both running the business and addressing the school’s educational concerns. Academic deans may also have doctorates in different fields. For example, those who started their careers as teachers or professors before working in education administration may pursue doctorates in their fields of expertise.

Gaining work experience is a critical step in becoming an academic dean. In addition to the knowledge and skills attained with an advanced education, many higher education organizations require that their academic deans have extensive experience working in college administration. While the number of years may vary, candidates for this position must have been previously employed by universities or similar institutions, whether as assistants, professors, or administrators.

To be an academic dean, education professionals must have a variety of skills. Leadership is essential, as deans are in charge of leading academic faculties, communicating the visions of their organizations, and promoting teamwork and collaboration among their staff. They also need financial skills and business acumen to run the administrative aspects of a college or university, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving to address administrative challenges that arise. In addition, academic deans have been increasingly required to hone their computer and technical skills to maintain and manage student records, school databases, and other data.

Academic Dean Salaries

Being the academic dean of a university or college can be lucrative, depending upon the size of the organization, the scope of responsibilities of the position, school budgets, and other factors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual pay for all postsecondary education administrators working in colleges, universities, and professional schools as of May 2017 was $94,320. Variations in the salaries of academic deans may also depend on the experience of the education professional seeking the position.

Future Growth in Higher Education

Education professionals seeking leadership positions in higher education could experience an increase in employment opportunities. The BLS projects all postsecondary education administrators will see employment growth of 10 percent from 2016 to 2026. The main reason for this increase is because student enrollment in colleges and universities is also increasing.

Academic deans also have the opportunity to grow in their field. There are executive positions in higher education to which academic deans may aspire. Positions such as provost, chief academic officer, and president entail different responsibilities and complex challenges for leaders looking to work their way up the education ladder.

Study to Become an Academic Dean

As more individuals choose to pursue university and college educations to help them achieve their career goals, there will continue to be a need for more qualified administrative professionals who work to ensure that their institutions offer strong academic programs that meet all necessary standards. What academic deans do is essential to this process, as they are responsible, along with faculty members and other administrators, for helping academic organizations reach their goals.

Learn more about Maryville University’s online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership and discover how gaining advanced skills in higher education and leadership can help education professionals drive their careers forward.


Inside Higher Ed, “Ask the Administrator: What Skill Sets Do Deans Need?”

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, “The Purpose of Education”

Maryville University, Careers in Higher Education

Maryville University, Online Doctor of Education — Higher Education Leadership

PayScale, Average Academic Dean Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “What Postsecondary Education Administrators Do”

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