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Principal Perceptions of the Effectiveness of 
University Educational Leadership Preparation and 

Professional Learning 

This manuscript has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and endorsed by the National Council of Professors of 
Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a significant contribution to the scholarship and practice of 

school administration and K-12 education. 

Arvin D. Johnson 

Kennesaw State University 

Principals and assistant principals currently serving in Florida and Georgia school districts 
were surveyed about their perceptions of university educational leadership preparation and 
professional learning. The results revealed that many principals and assistant principals agreed 
that university educational leadership preparation programs enhanced their overall preparation, 
school leadership, and school law. However, participants disagreed that leadership preparation 
programs assisted them in managing school budget, data analysis, and human resources. 
Participants overwhelmingly indicated that school districts provide meaningful professional 
learning opportunities and that they prefer job-embedded learning experiences over university 

NCPEA International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, Vol. 11, No. 1- May, 2016 
ISSN: 2155-9635 © 2016 National Council of Professors of Educational Administration 



Several factors impact the manner in which university educational leadership programs prepare 
school leaders, including state certification requirements, university accreditation criteria, and 
the need to prepare students for a role that changes based on location and school district. Local 
needs and partnerships may also impact how universities prepare school leaders. 

University educational leadership curricula must be aligned with state certification 
requirements. States have the autonomy to require certification for school administrators, and 
nearly all states have established criteria (Hale & Moorman, 2003; Manasse, 1985). Typically, 
these include attaining a degree, passing a state examination, and receiving professional training. 
These requirements derive from state-developed and adopted educational leadership standards. 
State certification applicants must demonstrate mastery of these standards through university 
educational leadership preparation or alternative programs. In addition, states can develop 
several levels of principal certification that correspond to individual administrative 
appointments. For example, Georgia has multiple levels of educational leadership certification, 
and each level identifies the type of leadership position the applicants can hold. Florida also has 
multiple levels of certification with different criteria for attainment. University educational 
leadership curricula must prepare students to meet state requirements for certification. 

States require that educational leadership programs be accredited by appropriate 
institutions (Hale & Moorman, 2003). Accredited universities must adhere to guidelines 
established by these bodies. Some universities are accredited by agencies such as the Council for 
the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), AdvancED, and the National Council for 
Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Institutions that grant accreditation require that 
universities meet and maintain specific criteria. As a result, accreditation criteria impacts 
university educational leadership curriculum. 

University educational leadership programs prepare students to take on the complex and 
demanding responsibilities of today’s school principal (Hess & Kelly, 2007). Successful 
principals must master human resources planning and supervision, school budget, facilities, and 
especially instructional leadership (Backor & Gordon, 2015; Lynch, 2012; Valentine & Prater, 
2011). University leadership preparation programs have reassessed themselves due to the 
increased roles and responsibilities of the principal (Orr, 2006). In response these changes, the 
Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) revised Interstate School Leaders Licensure 
Consortium (ISLLC) and National Educational Leadership Preparation (NELP) standards. The 
revised standards were designed to reflect the litany of changing expectations in the role of the 
principal (Superville, 2014). 

Conceptual Framework 

This study was designed to contribute to the existing knowledge base on the effectiveness of 
university educational leadership programs. Based on the perspectives of current school 
administrators, I sought to inform the knowledge base and provide recommendations to 
educational leadership faculty. Several overarching concepts served as the theoretical basis for 
this research. Each concept provides a unique context for this study. 

The effectiveness of educational leadership preparation programs is being debated. Some 
research supports the conclusion that these programs are ineffective in preparing principals 
(Farkas, Johnson, & Duffet 2003; Hess & Kelly, 2007; Levine, 2005; Orr, 2006). Other research 


concludes that these programs are necessary and adequate in preparing students to become 
principals (Duncan, Range, & Scherz, 2011; Isik, 2003). Empirical research and evaluations of 
university educational leadership programs can contribute to the knowledge base on program 

Both landmark and current research support the idea that well-developed principals have 
a significant impact on student achievement (Barber, Whelan, & Clark, 2010, Cowie & 
Crawford, 2007; Leithwood, Louis, Anderson & Wahlstrom, 2004; Mortimore & Sammons, 
1987; Odden & Odden, 1995; Pina, Cabrel, & Alves, 2015; Valentine & Prater, 2011; Waters, 
Marzano, & McNulty, 2003, 2004). Empirical research suggests that principals have, at 
minimum, an indirect impact on student outcomes (Hallinger, Bickman, & Davis, 1996; 
Liethwood, Patten, & Jantzi, 2010). The impact that principals can have on student achievement 
warrants further research into the effectiveness of principal preparation. 

A body of research suggests that current school administrators are qualified to provide 
input on university educational leadership program effectiveness (Backor & Gordon, 2015; 
Baxter, Thessin, & Clayton, 2014; Cowie & Crawford, 2007; Duncan et ah, 2011). This study 
examines perceptions of current school administrators to answer research questions about the 
effectiveness of university educational leadership programs in Florida and Georgia. School 
administrator perceptions provide an appropriate lens through which to view the effectiveness of 
principal preparation programs. 

University educational leadership programs are necessary and can impact principal 
behavior (Isik, 2003). These programs provide applicants the necessary coursework to obtain 
state certification. In addition, they offer curriculums that helps prepare applicants for the state 
certification examinations. States sanction universities with principal preparation programs to 
offer curriculums that are aligned to administrative certification (Gumus, 2015; Roberts, 2008). 
Successful principal preparation is a shared concern among universities, states, and local school 
districts (Browne-Ferrigno, 2011). These concepts accentuate the need for continued research to 
help university educational leadership programs meet the preparatory needs of 21st-century 


This research examined existing principals’ perceptions of the effectiveness of their university 
educational leadership preparation programs. It also sought to examine principals’ perceptions of 
their professional learning needs based on the demands of their role. Many university educational 
leadership professors are unaware of the day-to-day experiences of principals (Farkas et al., 
2003; Levine, 2005). As a result, an ancillary purpose of this research was to provide current 
principals the opportunity to share their insights of the educational leadership research field. For 
the purpose of this research, the term “administrator” refers to both principals and assistant 

Literature Review 

A myriad of research on various aspects of principal preparation exists. This literature review 
focused on studies that contribute to the general knowledge base regarding principal preparation, 
suggest overall university principal preparation is inadequate, spotlight specific university 


principal preparation programs providing adequate preparation, and promote novel and 
innovative principal preparation programs. 

General Knowledge Base 

Backor and Gordon (2015) conducted research to examine the perceptions of principals, 
professors, and leaders in teaching regarding the needs of principal preparation programs. They 
grounded their research in the premise that instructional leadership and student achievement are 
connected. In this qualitative research, researchers interviewed three groups of participants to 
gather their perceptions on how university principal preparation programs should ready 
candidates for instructional leadership. All three groups of participants revealed that the 
following should be included in principal preparation programs: a comprehensive applicant 
screening, functions of instructional leadership, the knowledge, skills, and dispositions best 
suited for principals, teaching and learning strategies, field experiences, and induction plans. The 
researchers provided suggestions for implementation of each recommendation. In addition, they 
made recommendations for future research to improve principal preparation programs. 

One way to assess the effectiveness of educational leadership preparation programs is to 
seek input from those who participated in them. Baxter et al. (2014) explored how school leaders 
employed effective leadership practices developed during preparation programs in their current 
administrative roles. The researchers wanted to understand how to best prepare school leaders for 
success, so they sampled 19 school leaders in a qualitative research study. They defined 
communitarian leadership as assuming the responsibility of decision-making with others in mind. 
Using the premise that communitarian leadership may be associated with improved student 
outcomes, the researchers sought input from school leaders, asking them to discuss how their 
preparation programs affected their engagement with communitarian leadership. The researchers 
examined the prevalent themes that were most valuable to participants. The most frequent 
communitarian themes included communication, relationships, values, and beliefs. The 
researchers recommended educational leadership programs accentuate community-based 
learning, cohort models, field experiences, aligned curriculums, and program recruitment. 

Orphanos and Orr (2014) conducted research to understand the influence of leadership 
preparation and practice on teacher satisfaction. The sample included 175 teachers whose 
principals completed exemplary university educational leadership preparation programs and 589 
teachers who completed traditional leadership preparation programs. The results revealed that the 
exemplary programs had statistically significant, direct effects on those principals’ practices and 
indirect effects on teacher collaboration and satisfaction. The results from this research suggested 
that the quality of educational leadership preparation can influence the effect principals have on 
teachers, who have the largest impact on student achievement (Leithwood et al., 2004). 

Hallinger and Lu (2013) conducted research to examine educational leadership 
preparation in schools of business management and publication administration. They conducted 
online research to analyze 31 MBA, MPA, and MBA programs with concentrations in education. 
They also examined curricula, instructional strategies, and the structure of these programs and 
identified any value-added components that potentially could improve university educational 
leadership programs. The results revealed that educational leadership programs generally did not 
include components of MBA and MPA programs that may deserve closer examination. These 
areas included project management, data-based decision-making, customer orientation, strategic 


management/planning, and attaining global perspectives. These areas are aligned with some of 
the expanding roles of the principal (Murphy, 2001). 

Inadequate Preparation 

Hess and Kelly (2007) researched what was specifically being taught in university principal 
preparation programs. The researchers examined 210 syllabi from 31 elite, nonelite, small, and 
large programs. They investigated how much time was devoted to seven major leadership 
strands: managing results, personnel, and classroom instruction, developing technical 
knowledge, leading both in school culture and externally, and maintaining norms and values. The 
results revealed that little time was spent on accountability, managing school improvement, 
instructional management, hiring and retention practices, and public relations. In addition, 
empirical research rarely informed practice. A large portion of time was spent on technical 
processes such as law, finance, and operation, but with no assessment of learning. Programs used 
a limited number of textbooks and did not take advantage of the most influential educational and 
management thinkers. The results of this study suggested that university educational leadership 
programs did not address many entrepreneurial skills that are paramount to principal success. 
The researchers recommended reformation of educational leadership programs to meet the needs 
of 2 lst-century principals. 

Levine (2005) published a report that further supported the need for university 
educational leadership program refonn. Levine asserted that “the majority of the programs that 
prepare school leaders range in quality from inadequate to poor” (Levine, 2005, p. 1). These 
results derived from a four-year study of U.S. schools of education. In his report, Levine 
identified nine points by which schools of education must be evaluated: purpose, curricular 
coherence, curricular balance, faculty composition, admissions, degrees, research, finances, and 
assessment. His research revealed that most administrators are trained in the educational 
leadership departments of schools of education and that the poor quality of many of these 
programs has led to scrutiny. The study found six major flaws in university educational 
leadership preparation programs: curricular disarray, low admission and graduation standards, 
weak faculty, inadequate clinical instruction, inappropriate degrees, and poor research. Levine 
offered three recommendations for university educational leadership departments: eliminate 
incentives that favor low quality programs, set and enforce minimum standards of quality, and 
redesign educational leadership programs (2005). 

Some researchers have identified specific curriculum needs that are not included in 
university educational leadership programs. Blase and Blase (2004) conducted qualitative 
research to explore the importance of preparing leaders for the negative aspects of leadership. 
The researchers believed that most studies on university educational leadership programs 
focused on effective leadership and did not address the negatives. Fifty teachers who were 
mistreated by their principals were interviewed, and results revealed that their principals engaged 
in similar behaviors. The researchers analyzed questionnaire data from over 400 administrators 
and teachers and responses confirmed that participants would like preparation and development 
in the negative aspects of leadership, finding that “what not to do as an educational leader, is as 
important as just studying the positive, effective things” (Blase & Blase, 2004, p. 261). The 
results suggested the need to caution against the negative aspects of leadership in university 
educational leadership curriculums. 


Many principals do not believe that their university educational leadership programs 
properly prepared them for their roles as principal. Farkas et al. (2003) revealed several 
disturbing themes from survey results of 900 principals and 1,000 superintendents. Over 95% of 
the surveyed principals believed that peer assistance was more beneficial than their university 
leadership preparation programs. In addition, over 65% of surveyed principals believed that their 
university preparation programs were disconnected from the realities of the job. The surveys 
suggested that principals do not have confidence in university educational leadership programs. 
These data were collected from individuals undergoing the daily demands of the principal 
position, and they contribute to the demand for a reexamination and refonn of university 
educational leadership programs. 

Elmore (2000) wrote about the need to restructure public schools and school systems to 
meet the demands of standards-based refonn. He asserted that if school systems continue status 
quo reform efforts, failure is inevitable and public trust will continue to erode. Elmore declared 
that the solution to this problem is “dramatic changes in the way public schools define and 
practice leadership” (2000, p. 2). He stated that public school leaders are not equipped to 
successfully assume the responsibilities that the job requires. Elmore’s notions align with the 
idea that university educational leadership programs and school districts are not preparing 
students for administrative roles adequately. He offered several external solutions for improving 
school leadership preparation. In his paper, Elmore (2000) recommended and elaborated on five 
principles that could yield comprehensive improvements to school systems: maintaining a tight 
instructional focus sustained over time, routinizing accountability for practice and performance 
in face-to-face relationships, reducing isolation, allowing direct observation, analysis, and 
criticism of practice, exercising differential treatment based on performance and capacity, not on 
volunteerism, and decreasing discretion of practice perfonnance. 

Adequate Preparation 

Boyland, Lehman, and Sriver (2015) conducted research on new principal performance based on 
the Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) and state-level content standards for 
principal preparation. Superintendents were asked to rate new principals who recently completed 
university educational leadership training programs. The results demonstrated that 
superintendents rated new principals proficient in most categories and highest in the integrity 
category. The lowest-rated category was financial management. In all other categories, new 
principals were rated as proficient. Notwithstanding the limitations of this study, the results 
suggested that based on the ELCC and Indiana Content standards, some university educational 
leadership programs are preparing students to become effective principals. 

Duncan et al. (2011) designed a study to obtain input from principals that would 
influence the content and practice of the educational leadership preparation program at the 
University of Wyoming. They surveyed 286 Wyoming principals to analyze their perceptions of 
preparation program strengths and weaknesses, new principal professional development needs, 
and district-provided professional learning. The researchers wanted the collected data to fill gaps 
in their university principal preparation program. Participants identified more overall strengths 
than weaknesses in their principal preparation programs. However, the results yielded many 
inconsistencies in perceptions of strengths and weaknesses. This variation may be attributed to 
differing content at participants’ preparation institutions. Principals valued the internship because 
it exposed them to the routine practices of the job. The results also suggested that principals 


believed that school districts did not provide adequate professional learning opportunities in 
building relationships and solving conflicts. 

The concept of university educational leadership preparation programs preparing 
principals is supported by the research of Isik (2003), who wrote, “There is no special principal 
certification program in Turkey” (Isik, 2003, p. 2). Isik conducted research evaluating the 
effectiveness of principals who completed administrative preparation and those who did not 
using a direct effects model. Using a researcher-developed, 24-item instrument, data were 
collected from 240 teachers who had worked with principals trained in an administrative 
preparation program and fonner principals who were not. Results revealed that administrative 
preparation had substantial impact on principal behavior. The results also supported the idea that 
university educational leadership programs can impact principal practice. The debate is generally 
not about whether there is a need for university educational leadership programs, but the 
effectiveness of new and existing programs. 

Innovative Preparation 

Some researchers have examined in-depth perspectives of innovative university principal 
preparation programs. Kearney and Valadez (2015) conducted research at a public university in 
Southwestern United States. The researchers examined three classifications of innovation: 
enhanced entry criteria, increased field-based experiences, and support after graduation. In an 
effort to redesign a traditional university educational leadership preparation program, professors 
sought the input of local key stakeholders. These stakeholders included program graduates who 
were currently school administrators; university faculty and administration; educational 
leadership faculty from different universities; school district leaders; and school leaders from 11 
surrounding districts. Based on the feedback from the local stakeholders, three primary features 
were recommended and implemented: co-teaching, district course locations, and in-service 
training for current leaders. The next step is to evaluate reforms by hiring external evaluators, 
monitoring graduation and state certification pass rates, distributing self-assessments, and 
examining hiring rates data, longevity, value-added measures of graduates, and student success 
rates. The full effects of the redesigned program can be measured fully in a few years. However, 
the redesign adds to the knowledge base of current models of innovative efforts in improving 
university educational leadership preparation programs. 

Davis and Darling-Hammond (2012) conducted short case studies and cross-case analysis 
of five innovative principal preparation programs. These programs shared several characteristics 
that warrant closer examination: a strong focus on instructional leadership as a core element, a 
blend of practical application and empirical research, a highly selective matriculation process, an 
included internship, collaboration with local school districts, a cohort model of students, and 
authentic problem-solving investigations. In addition, all the programs have endured the 
challenges of university educational leadership preparation programs over long periods of time. 
Survey results revealed that graduates of these programs have strong confidence in their 
preparation, are highly effective principals, and have impacted their schools. More developed 
research on the outcomes of these programs is needed to extend this research. 



This research examined current administrators’ perceptions of the effectiveness of their 
university educational leadership preparation program. These administrators operate in the 
present age of accountability. The rationale for targeting this population is that they are among 
the most qualified to answer the posed research questions: 

a) What are existing principals’ perceptions of university educational leadership preparation? 

b) What do principals perceive as the most valuable knowledge gained from university 
educational leadership preparation? 

c) What do principals perceive as the least valuable knowledge from university educational 
leadership preparation? 

The researcher developed an online survey using Qualtrics to ascertain administrators’ 
perceptions of the overall and specific aspects of the effectiveness of their university educational 
leadership programs. The survey was delivered digitally to a convenience sample of 168 
principals and assistant principals in Florida and Georgia. An informed letter of consent attached 
to each email provided a description of the importance and purpose of the study, researchers’ 
contact information, procedures, time required to complete the survey, and other important 
information related to the study (Creswell, 2013). Of the delivered online surveys, 38% (n = 64) 
were completed by principals and assistant principals, yielding an acceptable researcher response 
rate (Cook, Heath, & Thomson, 2000) and surpassing the average web-based survey response 
rate of 34.6%, based on a meta-analysis by Cook, Heath, & Thomson (2000). 


After the Institutional Review Board approved the study, principals and assistant principals 
(administrators) listed as members of a professional educational organization in Florida or 
Georgia were invited to participate. The researcher also gathered names and email addresses of 
existing administrators in various school settings (urban, suburban, rural, and 
independent/charter) from several school district websites in Georgia. These administrators were 
sent informed consent cover letters, the survey link, and were asked to complete the survey. 


The researcher designed a 25-item survey to gather demographic and perception data from 
participants. The survey was vetted for validity and recommendations by university and school- 
based educational experts in Florida and Georgia. The survey consisted of three sections. The 
first section (items 1-11) was designed to obtain demographic information from participants. The 
second section (items 12-22) assessed participants’ perceptions of the effectiveness of their 
university preparation programs via Likert scale items (1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = 
neutral, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree). The second section also addressed the following 
perceptions of participants’ university preparation programs: a) overall preparation for 
administrative role; b) preparation in the area of school law; c) preparation in the area of school 
data analysis; d) preparation in the area of school finance and budget; e) preparation in the area 
of school leadership; f) preparation in the area of human resources; g) the usefulness of 


preparation; h) the type of field experience included in preparation; i) job-embedded learning 
experiences; and j) the assistance of district-level professional development. Reliability of these 
eight items was measured using Cronbach’s Alpha, which yielded an acceptable rate, a = .795 (n 
= 8), (Cronbach, 1951; Hatcher, 1994). Cronbach's Alpha estimates how well a set of items 
consistently measures the same construct to demonstrate internal reliability. 

The third section solicited responses to three open-ended questions related to: 1) 
perception of skills that participants did not learn but would have liked to have learned in their 
university training; 2) skills learned that they frequently use; and 3) skills learned that they rarely 

Analysis of Data 

Participant data from the leadership preparation surveys were analyzed in three ways. The initial 
section that assessed the demographics of the administrators is reported in the demographics 
section. These data were analyzed using Qualtrics and describe the descriptive statistics of the 
administrators, the school settings in which they work, and where they obtained their university 
preparation. The second two sections asked questions regarding participant perceptions of 
specific areas of leadership via a Likert scale. These data were analyzed and reported using 
quantitative reports prepared in Qualtrics. The third section asked administrators to answer open- 
ended questions on their perceptions of their university preparation. These data were analyzed to 
identify any commonalities in administrator responses. 


Sixty-four (n = 64) administrators responded to the surveys, and their responses were recorded 
into Qualtrics. Of the 64 participants, 33 (51.56%) were principals and 31 (48.44%) were 
assistant principals. Thirty-nine (60.94%) were male and 25 (39.06%) were female. Thirty-two 
(50%) of the participants were African American and 32 (50%) were Caucasion. Of the 64 
respondents, all were employed by public school districts; 19 (29.69%) worked in elementary 
schools, 19 (29.69%) in middle schools, and 26 (40.63%) in high schools. Twenty-six (41.27%) 
listed working in an urban school setting, 28 (44.44%) listed suburban, and 9 (14.29%) listed 
rural. One participant did not respond to the school setting question. The average years of 
experience were eight for principals and five for assistant principals. The average number of 
years spent with current school was five years. Principal preparation ranged from 24 universities 
in 10 states, with the most from Florida (28) and Georgia (20). The years in which principal 
preparation programs were completed ranged from 1969 to 2015, with the mode being 2004. 

Perceptions of University Leadership Preparation Programs 

Table 1 displays administrators’ perceptions of specific areas of university preparation. 


Table 1 

Response Number/Percentage to University Administrative Preparation Questions 





Strongly Agree 






























School Law 









School Budget 









School Data 




















Use of Learned 









Application of 










Prefer Job- 




















As indicated in Table 2, over 85% of administrators agreed or strongly agreed that 
overall, their university leadership preparation programs prepared them for their current roles as 
school administrators in overall preparation, school leadership, and school law. However, over 
30% of administrators disagreed or strongly disagreed that their university leadership preparation 
programs prepared them in the areas of data analysis, human resources, and school 
finance/budget. In addition, over 76.19% of administrators agreed or strongly agreed that they 
routinely use skills learned in their university leadership preparation and that they apply the 
theories learned in their university leadership preparation program. Fifty-five of 60 (91.66%) 
administrators agreed or strongly agreed that job-embedded learning experiences have been more 


meaningful than university preparation leadership preparation. Fifty-five of 63 (87.3%) 
administrators agreed or strongly agreed that their districts provide professional learning that 
helps them in their roles as administrators. 

Table 2 

Percentage of Combined Responses to University Administrative Preparation Questions 

Strongly Agree/Agree 



Overall Preparation 



School Leadership 



School Law 



School Budget 



School Data Analysis 



Human Resources 






Use of Learned Skills 
Application of Theories 




Prefer Job-Embedded 




Dis./Sch. Professional 




School Law 



Types of Field Experience 

Fifty-three of 63 (84.13%) administrators reported that they completed field experience as part of 
their leadership preparation. Practical application courses were the most reported, with 33 
(52.38%) administrators reporting this type of course completion. This was followed by 
internships, which were reported to have been completed by 19 (30.16%) administrators. 

Administrator Preferential Areas of Preparation 

Administrators identified 57 areas in which they would have liked to have received more 
preparation in their university leadership preparation programs. Among the skills listed, two 
emerged in multiple responses: budget, which was listed 19 times, and achievement data 
analysis, which was listed 10 times. Other areas identified included parental involvement, 
dealing with difficult parents, professional learning, stakeholder relationship, and human 

Most Frequently Used Areas of Preparation 

Administrators identified 58 areas that they learned in their university leadership preparation 
programs and used most frequently in their careers. Law and leadership were the most 
consistently identified skills. Law was listed 20 times, more than any other skill, and forms of 
leadership were identified 16 times. These included transformational, multi-cultural, general, 


instructional, ethical, and organizational leadership. Other areas identified as frequently used 
included curriculum design and data analysis. 

Least Frequently Used Areas of Preparation 

Administrators identified 53 areas that they learned in university leadership preparation 
programs and do not use frequently in their careers. The three areas most consistently identified 
included: N/A, budget, and theory. Administrators listed none, or N/A, 17 times and budget 11 
times. Listed 17 times, theory was also consistently identified as an area not used frequently. 


Data from the literature review yielded a noteworthy revelation in regards to the time period of 
the empirical studies reviewed. General studies included data ranging from 2013 to 2015; 
innovative studies ranged from 2012 to 2015; adequate studies ranged from 2003 to 2015; and 
inadequate studies 2000 to 2007. While studies do not represent an exhaustive synthesis of 
principal preparation literature, these data demonstrate variation in findings. The noted studies 
that proposed overall inadequate principal preparation at the university level were older than the 
studies that revealed adequate or innovative preparation. The findings in this study point to 
overall perceptions of effectiveness of university principal preparation rather than 
ineffectiveness. This aligns with the findings of research conducted by Duncan et al. (2011). 

A diverse group of current principals and assistant principals working in public schools in 
Florida and Georgia perceived that the leadership training they received from 24 universities in 
10 states overall prepared them for their existing roles as administrators. The data suggest that 
these same universities are adequately preparing leadership candidates for their roles as assistant 
principals and principals based on the perceptions of the administrators in this study. Despite 
administrators’ perceptions that university leadership preparation programs prepared them for 
existing administrative roles, the results of this study provide some considerations for faculty 
within university leadership preparation programs and the field of educational leadership. These 
data warrant consideration since every participant in the study is a current public school 
administrator with direct knowledge of the skills and abilities they need and use on the job. 

This study found several promising themes for school districts and university leadership 
preparation programs. Administrators perceived that overall university leadership preparation 
programs prepared them for their roles. In addition, administrators perceived university 
leadership preparation programs prepared them in the areas of school law and leadership. Eighty- 
two percent of administrators surveyed reported that they routinely use the skills learned in 
university leadership preparation programs. School law and leadership were areas in which 
administrators agreed university leadership programs prepared them and were also areas that 
administrators stated they frequently use. This suggests that there is alignment in some areas of 
university leadership preparation and the skills that administrators report to use frequently. 
Eighty-seven percent of administrators agree or strongly agree that schools and districts are 
providing professional development that helps them in their roles. This finding is important 
because the role of the principal is influenced by local needs (Isik, 2000), accentuating the need 
for collaborative relationships between university leadership preparation faculty and local school 
district officials (Davis & Darling-Hammond, 2012). Fifty-three administrators (84%) reported 
that they had some type of field experience during university leadership preparation. This finding 
suggests that some universities are providing field experiences as part of their leadership 


preparation programs, which is supported by several studies (Davis & Darling-Hammond, 2012; 
Dobson, 2014; Kearney & Valadez, 2015). Another important finding was the frequency in 
which administrators responded N/A to the question about the least frequently used skill learned 
in university preparation. This suggested that administrators generally are using the skills gained 
during university preparation. 

While administrators who participated in this study overall believe that university 
preparation programs effectively readied them for administrative roles, data from the study 
suggested other noteworthy considerations. Data clearly and consistently suggested that a 
considerable percentage of administrators do not agree that university leadership programs 
prepared them in school finance/budgeting, data analysis, and human resources. These findings 
were consistent with administrators’ perceptions of areas in which they would have liked to have 
more preparation and areas that they used less frequently. 

In addition, an overwhelming percent (92%) of the administrators in this study believed 
that job-embedded learning experiences have been more meaningful than university preparation 
programs. This is not a negative reflection on university leadership programs but a reality of the 
evolving roles and needs of the administrators (Murphy, 2001). In addition, it aligns with ideas 
of on-the-job development (Duncan et al., 2011). A significant number of administrators (87%) 
agreed or strongly agreed that their schools and districts are providing professional learning 
opportunities that help them as administrators. Participants may prefer job-embedded learning 
over university preparation because many principal duties are learned in the process of gaining 
experience. This preference underscores the notion that university programs cannot fully prepare 
students for the roles they will play as principals, and on-the-job training is an ongoing 
requirement (Duncan et al., 2011). 

Theory was listed among the least-used areas taught in university leadership preparation 
programs. This finding supports the belief that preparation programs are based too heavily in 
theory and, not in practice (Martin & Papa, 2008). However, this finding cannot explain why 
participants heavily agreed that university educational leadership programs prepared them both 
overall and in school leadership, which is based in theory. For principals to have a 
comprehensive understanding of leadership and their work, theory cannot be separated from 
practice. This finding may suggest that participants simply are not connecting practice to theory, 
which could warrant further consideration by university educational leadership preparation 


Limitations of this study included the use of convenience sampling to collect data from 
participants, which limits generalizability to the population (Creswell, 2014). The return rate and 
sample size were acceptable but limited, considering the number of school administrators across 
the country. In addition, the participants were public school administrators currently practicing in 
Florida and Georgia only. 


University leadership programs play a critical role in the process of preparing leadership 
candidates for administrative roles. Meaningful leadership preparation is a process, and 
universities are not the sole dispensers of preparation for leader candidates. Foundational 
preparation should begin at the university level. However, adequate preparation will require a 


continuum of aligned professional learning experiences collaboratively delivered through 
universities, state boards of education, local school districts, individual leaders in candidate 
needs, and community stakeholders. As administrator roles and needs change continually, it is 
incumbent upon university leadership preparation faculty to continue exploring realistic and 
aligned preparation practices. University educational leadership curriculum should require (1) 
strategic alignment to state mandates and university accrediting bodies; (2) alignment with the 
needs of local school districts; and (3) alignment with the needs of individual leaders and 
community stakeholders. This alignment will require collaboration, research, and a willingness 
to periodically revise university leadership preparation programs as the dynamics of the 
principals’ role continues to change. University faculty must embrace the idea that the 
responsibility of effectively preparing leadership candidates rests on alignment in these areas and 
that the preparation process is fluid. Studies on university leadership programs yield inconsistent 
results, as reported in this study’s literature review. Accordingly, university leadership programs 
cannot be meaningfully examined with general evaluations. Instead, local variables must be 
measured when evaluating the needs and effectiveness of university leadership programs. 



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