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While women remain underrepresented as college and university presidents, those leading women’s colleges tend to oversee more equitable pay practices. However, female presidents are still the minority across higher education.

A recent report from AAUW (American Association of University Women) analyzed IPEDS data on over 4,000 degree-granting postsecondary institutions. It found:

• Women comprised just 26% of presidents at all colleges and universities, including 26% at public four-year colleges, 29% at private non-profit four-year colleges, and 16% at public two-year colleges.

• In contrast, 90% of presidents at women’s colleges were female. However, only about 7% of all colleges and universities are women’s colleges.

• Among female presidents at coed institutions, median salaries were 3% higher than for male presidents after controlling for institution characteristics. However, a gender pay gap persists when not controlling for these factors.

• Female presidents at women’s colleges had median salaries 5% higher than their coed counterparts, suggesting they may face less pay discrimination in these roles. However, the number of women’s colleges makes conclusions limited.

• Relatively higher pay at women’s colleges could reflect a focus on equity rather than actual equivalent pay. More data is needed to determine how much of the difference can be attributed to factors like responsibilities, experience, discipline, and market forces versus gender.

The report calls on higher education to actively work to increase the number of female presidents through recruitment, mentoring, policy changes, and addressing root causes of inequity in the field. Recommendations include blind screening of candidates, addressing marginalization and biases, and providing fair access to opportunities for career growth and advancement.

While progress has been made, much work remains to achieve pay equity and equal representation across higher education leadership. With women making up the majority of enrolled students and entering the workforce at higher rates, a greater presence of female presidents is critical to speaking for and addressing priorities of this growing population. Diverse leadership also brings benefits like better decision making, creativity, and innovation that can shape colleges and student experience for the better.

Though still limited, research suggests pay may not necessarily be an impediment to recruiting and retaining strong female candidates for presidencies at colleges, including at coed institutions. With collective action, higher education can embrace this insight, continue building momentum, and work to make equal and fair opportunities a reality for all. Pay equity, diverse representation, and inclusive excellence should be pursued vigorously as key goals shaping a just and responsive higher education system. The future of colleges and the people they serve depends on progress against these most fundamental aims.

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