Discover What It Takes to Work as an Academic Dean at a College or University

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Education Resources

An academic administrator leads a meeting


For professionals who want to make a difference in a higher education setting — to truly set the academic agenda for their respective colleges and universities — an academic dean career can be a satisfying goal. An academic dean is a senior-level administrative position that oversees an entire school or college and has to be adept at communication, negotiation, planning, budgeting and more.

Because of intense competition for academic dean openings and demanding work these executives have to accomplish, it’s important for candidates to seek out advanced degrees. A doctorate in education is one such credential, especially when it’s a course of study specifically designed for administration in higher education.

Academic dean salary and job description

Moving from another academic role to become a dean may come with a salary increase. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that administrators in postsecondary education earn a median of $94,340. PayScale’s prediction for academic dean positions comes to an average of $90,394. Dependent on the school and the dean’s tenure, it’s possible for salaries to comfortably reach six figures.

To unlock this increased earning potential, prospective deans must cultivate varied skills related to leadership and people management. PayScale indicated that the primary objective academic deans seek is improvement of scholastic performance. Achieving that goal requires hands-on intervention in faculty management, including hiring professors and setting expectations for academic staff. Academic deans can also have a significant role in marketing the school to prospective students, as well as boosting enrollment and retaining the most academically successful students.

The BLS pointed out that each college has its own academic dean in larger institutions with multiple subject-focused schools. For instance, a university with a school of law as well as a college of arts and sciences will likely have an academic dean for each of those colleges. Within a school, faculty members take their cues from the dean’s planning, day-to-day leadership and direction.

How to become an academic dean

Strong leaders possess a clear vision for themsleves and their organizations accompanied by effective implementation competencies. The Chronicle of Higher Education explained that prospective deans must have a vision for how institutions can best serve students. Candidates who are ready to express and defend their personal plans for a university’s future will be more successful than those who care more about systematic efficiency than big ideas.

PayScale indicated that assuming the role of dean requires long tenure and advanced credentials to go with the philosophical demands of the position. For instance, applicants may need five years or more of management experience in the academic world. Furthermore, a master’s degree in a related field is the baseline education level expected of candidates, with additional credentials such as the Ed.D. potentially helping applicants stand out from their qualified and well-educated competition. Larger colleges may not accept a new academic dean unless that person has already served in a similar role at another institution.

Ed.D. courses related to academic dean careers

Fortunately for academic professionals who envision a path to a dean role, courses in Ed.D.  programs can impart an in-depth and up-to-the-minute look at higher education leadership today. This begins with the core courses, which lay down the down the foundations of educational policy.

Learning in an Era of Technology

Due to the increasing role of tech tools in the way information is disseminated, educators have to understand the impact of new channels and devices. This course informs students on how they can keep up with tech trends and integrate those developments into their work.

National Trends in Assessment, Data Analysis, and Accountability

Great leadership is driven by continuous improvement based on data and analytics, rather than intuition. By taking this course, practitioners get an up-to-date picture of data use in academia.

The Internship

Serving under the tutelage of a mentor for two semesters allows prospective educational leaders to witness the practice of academic leadership up close and develop a network of relationships in the field.

In the Bradley University online program, those core courses are joined by five higher education-specific core classes that emphasize key knowledge and skills required of school leaders at this level.

Leadership in Higher Education and Community College

This course acquaints professionals with roles and responsibilities facing administrators at different kinds of colleges and universities. By examining specific cases, students see what leadership means in the academic world.

Administration of Online Programs in Higher Education and Community College

This is a course dedicated to the modern world of digital education, a relevant topic at many colleges and universities. Curriculum planning, ongoing faculty professional development, acquiring and managing necessary funding, and resolving technological issues are a few components of successful online programs.

Student and Academic Affairs

The leadership of a student body isn’t always a straightforward process. Deans and other administrators can find themselves searching for ethical and mutually acceptable ways to resolve students’ most challenging questions and issues. This class is designed to focus on these high-pressure situations.

The Contemporary Learner

Postsecondary learners today are changing, with their preferences and needs reflecting technological and cultural progressions in society. This course prepares professionals to serve the requirements of today’s higher-education pupils, applying detailed research to ensure graduates have an accurate and actionable picture of contemporary issues.

Financial Affairs in Higher Education

Professionals who attempt to take on budgetary responsibilities without sufficient knowledge may be surprised by ethical, political and logistical dilemmas that come with funding their departments. This course helps ensure prospective administrators can intelligently plan and implement financial plans.

Time to apply for an online Ed.D. program

Seeking an online Ed.D. is a way for academic administrators to further their interests and ambitions while remaining engrossed in full-time work. The flexible schedule of the online program ensures classwork fits alongside current responsibilities. This focus on work while earning the Ed.D. will prove valuable. Successful candidates for an academic dean position will require an impressive professional history and strong academic credentials.

There are many facets to being an effective academic dean and raising the scholastic performance of a college’s students. In an online Ed.D. program, students can gain essential knowledge about these specialized duties.

To learn more, check out the online Ed.D. program page.


Recommended Readings

The Higher Education Administration Career Path

A Look at The 4 Ed.D. Foundational Courses

Bradley University Online Ed.D. Program



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

The Princeton Review – College Administrator

UCAS – Education Administrator

The Chronicle of Higher Education – So You Want to Be a Dean?

PayScale – Average Academic Dean Salary

Bradley University – Higher Education Administrator Curriculum