The Career Paths of Chief Financial Officers In Higher Education

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Studies and Research

First Advisor

Arthur Southerland

Advisor Department

Educational Studies and Research


The goal of the study was to determine if a distinct career path of chief financial officers (CFOs) in higher education could be determined by looking at the professional histories of persons currently holding those positions. The study focused on the CFOs in the southern region of the United States at universities that had been accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. A 75% return rate from the survey was accomplished. Demographic information was collected such as age, length of time in current position, length of their working careers, and the number of employers over their careers. Educational and work histories were also collected along with whether the CFO had a professional certification. The CFOs were also asked about their perceptions regarding personal attributes, academic courses, and value of degrees and professional certifications as it related to advancing to the position and in performing the position. Information was captured on whether the incumbent was internally promoted or was hired externally to obtain their current position as well as with their three prior jobs. The question was asked whether the move was to a larger, smaller, or same-sized institution, if, in fact, the incumbent did change institutions. The analyses from the study did indicate a career path, but one that allows several avenues to reach the same destination rather than just one route. The findings from this study indicate that the norm is to have a graduate degree, but not a doctoral degree. The doctoral degrees were found at the larger institutions and were usually in educational administration. Undergraduate degrees in accounting were prevalent, and the graduate degrees were basically MBAs. Professional certifications did not appear mandatory. The findings seem to show that the current officers value skills such as communication, problem solving, and team building in performing their position more than they valued technical skills such as accounting and finance. However, many CFOs reported that they did believe that expertise in technical skills were apt to more likely land the aspiring candidate the position of CFO. Work experience in the controller's office and work experience in auditing and budgeting positions were reported as very helpful.