The American Conference of Academic Deans (ACAD) conducted a survey in November 2017 to assess the ways in which it supports the work of its members. The responses specify the programs and resources that deserve more emphasis in the coming years. A second goal of the survey is to identify initiatives that will allow ACAD to recruit more members in the future, with the strategic goal of 1000 members by 2020. In addition, ACAD looks to invest in programs and resources that further its mission, that reads in part: “…to provide academic leaders who share a commitment to student learning and to the ideals of liberal education with networking and professional development opportunities and to support them in their work as educational leaders.”
This short essay summarizes the survey results, dividing the findings into two sections. The first describes use of and attitudes about ACAD’s resources and programs. It also identifies the resources that ACAD members believe should be emphasized in the near term. The second section touches on membership and recruitment issues, including how members have come to ACAD and the means by which they share ACAD’s work with colleagues who have yet to join.1
Resources and Programs
ACAD members access a wide variety of the resources available to them, with a large majority of respondents indicating that they use the ACAD Listserv (69%), ACAD Presentation Sessions at the Annual Meeting (38%), the Resource Handbook for Academic Deans (34%), and the ACAD Keynote Luncheon (23%). Fewer members regularly attend the ACAD Member’s Breakfast (16%), ACAD Reception (16%), and ACAD Dean’s Institute (16%). These findings are not surprising, given that the Dean’s Institute is somewhat space-limited and, thus, available to a smaller cohort of members, and the Member’s Breakfast is generally populated by more active members of the organization. Finally, relatively few respondents indicated that they had ever used the Career Center (29%). The Center was a new addition to the ACAD website, featuring an enhanced focus on career services, and at the time of the survey was just beginning to be used by members.
When asked to rate the quality of the same ACAD programs and resources, respondents were most favorable about the Dean’s Institute, with 74.3% rating the program as excellent. Other ACAD resources/programs that received high ratings were the Resource Handbook for Academic Deans (73.5%), the Listserv (66.1%), ACAD Presentations at the Annual Meeting (65.3%), and the Pre-conference Workshops (65.2%). Not surprisingly, the resources and programs accessed by fewer members also received the lowest ratings.
Beyond evaluating current ACAD services, we asked members about their demand for ACAD resources and programs. Respondents identified the top three ACAD resources about which they would like to learn more. Members indicated interest in some of the activities of the Annual Meeting, such as the Dean’s Institute (59.2%), Pre-Conference Workshops (51.2%), and the ACAD Presentations (44.6%). They also indicated further interest in resources related to professional development, such as the Career Center (38.5%) and the Resource Handbook (36.6%).
The survey employed an open-ended question to query members about the advantages of ACAD membership. The responses clustered around the structure and function of ACAD programs that were identified in the closed-ended items. Members indicated that they valued the networking opportunities with peers facilitated by the smaller size of the organization. They also indicated that ACAD focuses on the professional needs of academic deans and the active Listserv provides a valuable context for peer mentoring.
The survey also provided members the opportunity to offer open-ended suggestions on how ACAD programs might be improved or new programs that might be considered. A number of responses indicated that there be a more structured and focused onboarding process for new deans and for assistant/associate deans. There is a growing interest in support for leadership development and for the job search process. Members indicated that there might be smaller, geographically-distributed meetings between the annual meetings, and that ACAD could leverage online platforms for webinars and for mentoring for new academic leaders. Notably, ACAD began offering peer-mentoring services during 2018.
Challenges and Support
We asked members about the top three challenges that they face in their positions and how ACAD might provide support in addressing these issues. Three topics consistently emerged: budget/financial challenges (19% of comments from respondents); enrollment/retention challenges (10%); and burnout/workload (9%).
The means by which ACAD might provide support are familiar, with respondents suggesting many of the modes currently employed: workshops both online and face-to-face (24% of comments from respondents); panel discussions at the ACAD annual meeting and conferences (18%); and opportunities to share experiences with colleagues through networking and mentoring opportunities (15%). The ACAD Board has already acted on this information by providing programming for the 2019 annual meeting that addresses these member interests.
Clearly, the most effective means of recruitment for ACAD has been through encounters with or referrals from current members. When asked how they learned about ACAD, respondents reported “From a colleague” (58%) and “At an AAC&U meeting” (29%). Of the “Other” replies, 5% reported that they learned about ACAD through an Internet search for professional organizations.
On the issue of member recruitment, respondents were asked how likely they would be to refer a friend or colleague to join ACAD and the responses were very encouraging. Nearly all of the responses (200/213) indicated that they would recommend ACAD to colleagues, with more than half (55%) replied “very likely” and 39% replied “likely.” The vast majority of members (84%) found the membership fee to be “just right” and a similar percentage (81%) indicated that they would be renewing.
The 2017 survey provides a comprehensive picture of ACAD’s activities and the ways in which members engage them. The ACAD Board has already leveraged this information with a renewed emphasis on the organization’s newsletter, The ACAD Leader, and enhancing the online resources available for members. The programming of the 2019 Annual Meeting has been directly informed by member responses, and the Board is further exploring ways in which this information can inform our resources and programming in the near-term. The survey indicates strong support from ACAD members of existing services, while also reminding the Board leadership of the need to seek comprehensive information from members on a regular basis.
1. The survey was distributed in November 2017 by e-mail to 746 current ACAD members and to 424 non-members. The non-members include former ACAD members and others who asked to receive information or attended an ACAD conference or meeting and never joined. A total of 213 responses were received for an overall 18% response rate, with responses from 26% of ACAD members (n=194) and 4% of non-members (n=19). The member response rate appears robust, indicating many members are willing to give of their time to benefit the organization.