What Does a Chief Academic Officer Do?

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  • Written By: Terry Masters
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2019
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A chief academic officer (CAO) is responsible for developing and administering the instructional plan for an academic institution. The position is typically the most senior executive in charge of all of the components that comprise the academic program and reports directly to the president. Since the academic program is a school's core product, the CAO is a title that is comparable to a chief operating officer in an ordinary company.

Functionally, the chief academic officer performs duties across four traditional business areas as those duties relate to the instructional program. His core responsibilities can be classified as product development. The CAO ensures that the curricula for credit and non-credit classes conforms to an overall instructional vision and philosophy. He develops the plan for the school's academic offerings, and determines whether those offerings meet the current and future needs of students and enhance the school's position in the marketplace. He also establishes and maintains a system of quality control to make sure the product is delivering the intended value to the students and meets state academic standards.

The chief academic officer also participates in human resources management. He is responsible for managing faculty recruitment, retention, and training. The school will likely have a specific department that handles the actual administrative tasks, but the CAO establishes the hiring criteria and the overall plan for staff development. If there is a problem retaining qualified faculty, it is the CAO's job to find and implement a solution.


Another important functional area of chief academic officer duties falls under finance. He is in charge of the budgets for the academic departments, including budget planning, expense monitoring, and reporting to the president and board of trustees. Schools will typically have a chief financial officer who is responsible for the overall finances. The CAO funnels information from his departments to the finance department for use in the school's master financial plan.

The chief academic officer also performs administrative tasks relating to the instructional program. For example, he sets the class schedule for the academic year, so his office also provides support to the school's marketing department to create the school catalog, descriptions of classes, and any other material that describe the school's academics. The CAO also develops operational policies and systems to support faculty and students, manages the school's accreditation, and typically supervises the library system. His office provides research and writing support to the school's fundraising department when applying for grants to support academic programs.


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