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How to Become a Provost

When people think of a college or university leader, they may first think of the institution president. But working closely with the president as the senior academic administrator is the provost, a key role that, in some cases, assumes the president’s responsibilities when needed.

With a wide range of skills and responsibilities, provost can be an ideal position for people who love the pursuit of knowledge and cultivating academic growth in others. While educational paths to a role as provost vary, a doctoral degree in higher education leadership, combined with experience in an academic administrative environment, can help aspiring professionals on their path toward becoming a provost and reaching the next level of their careers.

A smiling provost in a university meeting room.

What Is a Provost?

A provost oversees the financial decisions, administrative leadership, and direction of student and faculty affairs at colleges and universities. Often considered a champion for students, they represent students’ needs, handle communication efforts with potential donors, and cultivate industry relationships beneficial to the school. They’re usually second in command behind the university president, with considerable agency to make practical decisions to improve the school’s environment and performance.

Most provosts supervise professors, track enrollment trends, allocate university funds based on information analysis, and monitor courses to ensure academic excellence.

Provost Skills

Current and future educators aspiring to the high-level position of provost need to cultivate the necessary skills over a number of years in different professional positions.

Communication

Excellent oral and written communication skills are an essential component of the provost toolkit. From basic correspondence with trustees and industry leaders to crisis management, a provost must excel in relations techniques to best communicate information, both in expressing the university’s positions and in listening to the needs of stakeholders such as students, professors, and the community.

Trend Analysis

When assessing an institution’s academic offerings, the provost analyzes market trends to measure student desires and works with the marketing team to attract interested applicants. For example, if more students are interested in online courses, the provost works to assess the university’s online programs and improve availability.

Leadership

An effective provost is a reliable leader of both the student body and the faculty. Provosts should listen effectively to stakeholders, set a positive example, maintain collegiality, resolve conflict, and take responsibility for difficult decisions. They also inspire academic excellence and represent the school to the community.

Education and Experience

To ascend the career ladder to become a provost, one must first cement a foundation in the education and experiences needed to hone the skills for the job.

Education Requirements

Larger institutions typically require prospective provosts to have a doctorate, although smaller colleges may consider candidates with only a master’s degree. Because many provosts begin their careers as professors, they’re likely to already have graduate degrees in their academic disciplines. But as they move into administrative roles, many pursue advanced degrees in fields such as education, accounting, marketing, and administration. A specialized degree such as a Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership can prepare future provosts with the knowledge and experience necessary to positively influence academic institutions.

Experience Requirements

Many provosts begin their university careers in lower-level academic positions such as assistant or associate professor, often securing tenure and serving as heads of departments. However, others begin their careers in administration, working in the registrar’s office, human resources, financial aid, or student activities. Positions that offer the opportunity to develop familiarity with an academic environment and college administration can be first steps on the path to becoming a provost.

As aspiring provosts demonstrate competency in their positions, increase their ability to lead students, and take on more responsibility, they often work in positions such as chief planning officer, director of public affairs, dean of students, or development officer. This process can take several years.

The Next Step on Your Path to Provost

Becoming a provost can take many routes, but a strong foundation includes the right education. Maryville University’s online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership (EdD) is designed to help you advance your career by developing the skills required for top-level positions. With courses such as Leading in a Complex Environment, Understanding Data and Analysis, and Leadership in Higher Education, the Maryville EdD program prepares graduates to drive innovation in higher learning. Take the next brave step in your career today.

Recommended Readings

Emerging Leaders in Higher Education

ive Challenges of Today’s Provost

Provost vs. Dean: Differentiating Two Key Higher Education Roles

Sources:

Houston Chronicle, “The Academic Path to Become a Professor”

University Business, “7 Ways the Provost’s Job Is Bigger and Broader Than Ever Before”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Education Administrators

Wisegeek, “How Do I Become a Provost?”

Zippia, Provost Overview