What is the Difference Between an Academic Dean and Provost?

In the seemingly endless category of high-authority positions within universities, academic deans and the provost tend to be quite popular. Although many students had a chance to at least hear about one or both of these, they will seldom know the specifics of their jobs. After all, scholars seldom need to understand what an academic dean or the provost does daily. As soon as they find out that these individuals are some of the most important figures at their schools, their research about them tends to come to an end. So, what exactly is the difference?

Geographics May Impact the Definitions

Before explaining what an academic dean and the provost do, it is important to note how these titles are used in the same manner across the United States. Although they are never really utilized interchangeably, academic deans could stand for anything from senior professors to chief academic advisors or officers. Similarly, the provost can mean anything from the president’s right-hand person to the school’s senior financial advisor. Regardless, the following are the most common characteristics of each.

Academic Deans

An academic dean is someone who is usually in charge of an entire department within the university. For example, the business dean will most commonly be the highest-ranking figure for colleges of accounting, finance, marketing, management, and any other program that falls under the business umbrella. They usually carry some first-hand experience as they either have a degree or teaching expertise from the same field. Also, the vast majority of deans hold graduate diplomas. It would not be a far-reaching statement to say that most of them will have a doctorate.


Unlike academic deans, there is usually only one provost per educational institution. This is because they are ranked extremely high in the chain. Outside of the university’s president, according to Northern Michigan University, there are very few professionals who rank higher than the provost. The only other rank that parallels them tends to be the vice-president. Of course, the provost will still be under the president’s chief of staff. Nonetheless, they are amongst three or four of the highest senior academic officers. That means that they will be above all of the academic deans as well. As far as the provost’s job goes, he or she is in charge of large projects that pertain to institutional budgeting, funding, expansions, and similar. This allows them to work directly with the school’s president and other members of the executive leadership.

Exposure to Students

Besides the aforementioned discrepancies, academic deans and the provost will have a very different degree of student exposure. Deans are going to work on issues that escalate to their level. These could be queries that professors or advisors could not resolve. So, it is not uncommon for students to have to work directly with the dean. Outside of accidental interactions on campus, on the other hand, the provost will probably never meet with the student body directly. Their job is more focused on the school as a whole.

Surprisingly, the professional backgrounds for these two groups of educators are going to be quite similar. Both of them will usually need to have advanced degrees and relatable experience. Outside of that, however, academic deans and the provost have no major touching points.

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