School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Jillian L. Wendt


glass cliff phenomenon, higher education leadership, presidential hiring, gender equity


Higher Education | Psychology


This study reviews if the glass cliff phenomenon is occurring in U.S. higher education presidential hires. This topic is essential to review as U.S. higher education institutions are primarily presided over by male presidents. Female presidents do exist, but more often at more risky institutions. One reason for the lack of equity may be the glass cliff phenomenon, which asserts that women are more likely to be hired into leadership roles at riskier institutions. This inequity in hiring practices places women in leadership positions at considerable career risk. This study is a nonexperimental study using an ex post facto, causal-comparative design using publicly available data. The methods review data on female presidents of private and for-profit U.S. institutions from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Purposive sampling matched female presidents with male presidents at similar institutions. Data from the financial responsibility composite score database from the U.S. Department of Education (2020) are used to look for patterns in financial responsibility composite scores (FRCS) before and after presidential hires. Due to non-parametric data, a Mann-Whitney U test reviewed gender differences in FRCS before and after hiring. No significant results were found. Additionally, a Friedman test examined differences in FRCS across years within each gender; however, no significant results were found. This analysis suggests that when utilizing FRCS, there is no indication that women are hired into riskier institutions. This has positive implications for gender equity in high-profile academic leadership positions. Suggestions for future research include changing the dependent variable, looking at patterns of gender leadership, observing change over time, and analyzing colleges with a higher percentage of female faculty members.