What is the dean of students’ role in higher education?

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A dean stands in front of students in a lecture hall.

Leadership roles at colleges and universities come with a great deal of responsibility, as well as the potential to shape the educational experience for current and future students. Professionals who spend long stretches of their careers in higher education administration can take on these demanding and rewarding positions, pointing students toward academic success and having a strong positive influence on their institutions.

If your primary interest in the educational field involves providing support services and acting as a liaison between the student body and the school’s faculty and staff, you may find your calling as a dean of students. Working toward such a position requires exemplary professional experience and an educational background to match.

What does the dean of students do for a school?

The first thing to do before beginning on a career path is to define it: What is the dean of students position? As opposed to an academic dean, who serves as the overall director of an individual school, the dean of students provides student support and oversees the experience of attending a college or university.

According to Glassdoor, the dean of students helps ensure students know all the necessary information about housing, health services, the admissions process and relevant programs. Social groups and student activities fall under the dean’s oversight, as do reports of misconduct and resolutions to various conflicts.

Directing individual enrichment programs and providing advice to undergraduates as they choose and pursue their degrees are two responsibilities that fall to the dean of students, among others. The dean of students is an important member of the full-time administrative staff at a college or university, typically directing multiple employees.

Who does the dean of students report to?

The exact makeup of a college or university’s administrative structure will likely depend on the size of the school. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics specifies that larger institutions have more specialized departments overall, which may mean more people for the dean of students to report to (as well as a potentially larger team to handle student affairs duties).

Administrators above the dean of students include the provost, also known as the chief academic officer, as well as the president of the college or university. Deans of students will also have to coordinate their activities with academic deans. At large universities consisting of multiple colleges or schools, each specific school will have its own academic dean.

What challenges does a dean of students face?

Being a dean of students means having a wide-ranging set of skills and responsibilities. Professionals who take on the role must be ready to take decisive action and ensure a campus culture remains strong. Some of the most difficult parts of the dean of students role involve the remediation of disciplinary issues.

As PayScale explains, the dean of students office receives reports and complaints about student behavioral problems from faculty or other students. Anything negatively impacting student life on campus goes before the dean of students, who then decides the response. Meting out appropriate disciplinary action and ensuring that behavior improves are essential tasks for maintaining trust between students and the administration.

What makes a good dean of students?

A dean of students will ideally combine strong knowledge of modern educational practices with the interpersonal skills to direct others effectively. PayScale states that the dean of students must deal directly with professors ― assessing their methods and performance ― as well as students. Directing a team of student affairs professionals is another essential duty determining a dean’s effectiveness.

Some of the skills associated with this role are built through work experience in related administrative capacities, while others can be honed through education. Seeking an advanced degree is one way to build a background suited for the day-to-day responsibilities of this career path.

What is the average dean of students salary and job outlook?

While the exact salary and hiring picture will differ for dean of students positions depending on details such as school size and location, experienced higher education administrators have an opportunity to increase their earning power by taking this role. PayScale reports the median pay for a dean of students is $62,398, as of late April 2020, with the top 10% of professionals in the field making more than $99,000 a year.

Demand for administrative personnel at colleges and universities is expected to remain strong, the BLS reports as of April 2020, due to undergraduate-level candidates joining schools at elevated rates, seeking further education to advance their careers. Dean roles will likely not increase the way other positions will, as each institution only needs a single dean of students, but the number of student affairs jobs on the dean of students career path may increase to deal with higher enrollment numbers.

Schools’ readiness to hire or offer top-tier salaries will be tied to those institutions’ particular budgets. For instance, public universities depend on state spending levels to determine their financial picture for a particular year. Private colleges and universities are dependent on their own donor networks to set spending levels.

How do you become a dean of students?

Becoming a dean of students means putting in time as a college administrator and earning at least a master’s degree in education or a higher-level credential such as an Ed.D. PayScale and Glassdoor both specify colleges and universities look for dean of students candidates with advanced degrees in education. Glassdoor suggests earning a higher-level degree while working in educational administration is a common path to the top of the student affairs department.

The skills professionals acquire in their work and studies for this role should focus on an awareness of modern learning styles and institutional policies, administrative tasks and being an effective communicator.

What should you consider before becoming a dean of students?

The dean of students job description includes a commitment to bettering student life on campus through many methods, from working with the faculty to direct interventions in enrollees’ complaints. If you feel capable of taking on these essential duties, it’s time to consider your educational options.

Before you decide to embark on this career path, you should think about how you’re going to earn the necessary skills and credentials. Degree programs such as Bradley University’s online doctorate in education are designed to help you acquire the necessary knowledge on your own schedule while still serving in a full-time professional role.

What advanced degree courses can prepare you for a dean of students role?

Earning an online Ed.D. means directly engaging with subject matter that reflects today’s higher education landscape. Courses such as Student and Academic Affairs focus on the ethics of institutional leadership and campus programs today. By learning remediation strategies and familiarizing yourself with present-day educational needs, you can build a knowledge base directly suited to a dean of students’ responsibilities.

Other courses such as The Contemporary Learner deal with the unique challenges of understanding and relating to today’s students. Leadership in Higher Education and Community College breaks down the roles in institutional administration structures to help you comprehend your place in the chain of command, while Financial Affairs in Higher Education delves into the way today’s colleges and universities are funded.

Competition can be fierce for department-leading positions like a dean of students. With an online Ed.D. and the professional experience to match, you can display your knowledge of topics within the higher education space and demonstrate your worth to community colleges, four-year colleges and universities searching for effective administrators.

Visit the Ed.D. program page to determine your next steps toward the dean of students position.

Recommended Readings:

The Higher Education Administration Career Path

A look at the 4 online Ed.D. foundational courses


PayScale – Average Dean of Student Salary

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

Glassdoor – What is a Dean of Students?