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Difference Between a Dean and a Vice President at a College

by Trudy Brunot, studioD

Private or public, a college relies on its management team to meet financial, enrollment and matriculation goals. Some colleges call their chief executive "president," while others use the title "chancellor." The functional areas, such as finance, academic affairs, student affairs, external relations and administration, each led by a vice president, report to the president. The academic areas, or disciplines, fall under the responsibility of deans who typically report to the vice president of academic affairs.

Dean's Role

Colleges organize their academic offerings by schools, or colleges, that focus on areas of study, such as humanities and education, or vocations, such as law and engineering. A dean presides over each school with full responsibility for its administration, policies, curriculum, faculty and budget. Depending on the college, vice presidents of student affairs and enrollment -- positions that deal directly with students -- also may hold the title of dean.

Vice President's Role

A college vice president's responsibilities vary depending on how the college organizes its service, financial and operational functions. A vice president of external relations, for example, may handle fundraising only at one institution but handle alumni relations, public relations and the school website at another. One school may delegate human resources, accounting, facility maintenance and campus security departments to its vice president of administration, while another tacks finance to that list. All vice presidents ensure that the programs and activities under their jurisdiction adhere to the institution's strategic plan and promote its mission.


Both deans and vice presidents implement strategic goals, prepare and monitor budgets and uphold the college's image before the public and staff. Both have years of experience in their fields. However, the scope of their responsibilities differs. Vice presidents have college-wide oversight, while deans concentrate on one academic discipline. With the exception of the student affairs or student relations functions, vice presidents usually do not work directly with students. Experienced managers who enjoy the higher education environment and are ready to move into an executive position may find work as a college vice president to be an ideal fit. Professors move into administration and the dean's chair to broaden their influence on their school’s overall performance.

Qualification Differences

Deans need a doctoral degree in their school's discipline and to qualify as a tenured full professor, although deans of business schools often substitute executive experience for teaching qualifications. Their appointments recognize their professional track record, strategic planning experience, fundraising skills and ability to work with faculty, students, alumni and other members of the executive team. Vice presidents can rise through the academic ranks or be recruited from the business world. They need at least a master's degree -- most schools prefer a doctoral degree -- and 5 to 10 years of management experience that includes strategic planning, budgeting and staff supervision.

About the Author

Trudy Brunot began writing in 1992. Her work has appeared in "Quarterly," "Pennsylvania Health & You," "Constructor" and the "Tribune-Review" newspaper. Her domestic and international experience includes human resources, advertising, marketing, product and retail management positions. She holds a master's degree in international business administration from the University of South Carolina.

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