College Board Forum 2023

Three Takeaways from the Women in Higher Ed Leadership Panel Discussion

Five women in higher education leadership roles took the stage during the first day of the 2023 College Board Forum. Jill Oakley Jeppe, vice president of university partnerships at EdVisorly, moderated the session featuring: Adele Brumfield, vice provost for enrollment management at University of Michigan; Cindy Chin, vice president for enrollment management at Stevens Institute of Technology; Andrea Felder, vice provost for undergraduate enrollment at American University; and MJ Knoll-Finn, senior vice president for global enrollment management and student success at New York University.

Oakley Jeppe opened the session by sharing facts and stats on women in higher education leadership─ research that was performed by women. Thirty percent of campus presidents are women, yet women are among the lowest paid of higher education administrators, and less than 14% of administrators are women of color. However, she said it was important to note that the U.S. has more women in higher ed leadership roles than any other country. Oakley called attention to another key fact: research shows that organizations are more profitable when women have leaderships positions.

The four panelists shared their individual backgrounds, education journeys, and career path. They identified─and shared their own resolutions to─challenges facing women in senior higher education positions.

1. How They Empower Future Women Leaders

Felder told attendees that she emulates much of what her mentors did for her, which includes being understanding of staff pursuing postgraduate education alongside their jobs. She also tries to be supportive of women’s individual, personal obligations and help them move up in different ways. For example, she doesn’t respond to or send emails to staff after hours in deference to the importance of lives outside the office.

Chin shared her philosophy on team building. Because of her own career trajectory, from finance to higher ed, she understands that people don’t always check every box for a given role. She believes that skills are transferable between industries and “you can always teach the job.” She keeps those ideas in mind when building teams, creating new positions, and promoting staff. 

2. How They Think About Their Own Skill Building and Development

Brumfield gave this advice: “We forget that when you’re a leader you must move people─ from one place to the next place. How do you use your skills and negotiations and influence others, even those higher up the ladder? Those are valuable skills to continue to hone.”

Felder said that she gets involved with organizations nationwide. She finds opportunities to meet people and hear the perspectives of others across the education spectrum. 

Chin shared that her go-to is to learn everything she can about the role and organization and to figure out how it all fits together.

Knoll-Finn said that she focuses on relationships related to the role and building trust.

3. How Often They Feel Like the “Only One” in Their Position and How They Handle That

Brumfield shared that she feels like an “only” among the other leaders at her institution. Although others also have diverse backgrounds, they have doctorates and faculty appointments. She doesn’t. “What allows me to sit at the table with confidence is knowing that I know my craft and what I bring to that role every day.”

Chin is one of the few among her colleagues with a young child, which affects her scheduling. She stressed that it’s crucial to be present for her family AND her career. To do so requires flexibility. She encourages others in her position to speak up and ask for what they need. “Everyone’s got something. It’s important to prioritize that and get the job done when you can so you can be present for other things.”

Knoll-Finn talked about her experiences with business travel. She often found herself in a situation where she was the only woman among men. She cited a few examples, including comments she’s had to deal with and a time when an early boss gave her a safety implement for her hotel room door. She stressed the necessity of talking things through instead of internalizing them. “When something like that happens, it’s a good idea to tell someone about it. Dealing with such experiences alone is hard. You need to have someone to talk to and understand what you’re going through.” 

Left to right: Jill Oakley Jeppe, MJ Knoll-Finn, Cindy Chin, Andrea Felder, Adele Brumfield