- Opportunities for postsecondary teaching jobs are expected
to be good, but many new openings will be for part-time or non-tenure-track
- Prospects for teaching jobs will be better and earnings higher
in academic fields in which many qualified teachers opt for
nonacademic careers, such as health specialties, business, and
computer science, for example.
- Educational qualifications for postsecondary teacher jobs
range from expertise in a particular field to a Ph.D, depending
on the subject being taught and the type of educational institution.
Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of
academic and vocational subjects beyond the high school level
that may lead to a degree or to improvement in one’s knowledge
or career skills. These teachers include college and university
faculty, postsecondary career and technical education teachers,
and graduate teaching assistants.
College and university faculty make up the majority of
postsecondary teachers. They teach and advise more than 16 million
full- and part-time college students and perform a significant
part of our Nation’s research. Faculty also keep up with new developments
in their field and may consult with government, business, nonprofit,
and community organizations.
Faculty usually are organized into departments or divisions,
based on academic subject or field. They usually teach several
different related courses in their subject—algebra, calculus,
and statistics, for example. They may instruct undergraduate or
graduate students, or both. College and university faculty may
give lectures to several hundred students in large halls, lead
small seminars, or supervise students in laboratories. They prepare
lectures, exercises, and laboratory experiments; grade exams and
papers; and advise and work with students individually. In universities,
they also supervise graduate students’ teaching and research.
College faculty work with an increasingly varied student population
made up of growing shares of part-time, older, and culturally
and racially diverse students.
Faculty keep abreast of developments in their field by reading
current literature, talking with colleagues, and participating
in professional conferences. They may also do their own research
to expand knowledge in their field. They may perform experiments;
collect and analyze data; and examine original documents, literature,
and other source material. From this process, they arrive at conclusions,
and publish their findings in scholarly journals, books, and electronic
Most college and university faculty extensively use computer
technology, including the Internet; e-mail; CD-ROMs, and software
programs, such as statistical packages. They may use computers
in the classroom as teaching aids and may post course content,
class notes, class schedules, and other information on the Internet.
The use of e-mail, chat rooms, and other techniques has greatly
improved communications between students and teachers and among
Some faculty use the Internet to teach courses to students at
remote sites. These so-called “distance learning” courses are
an increasingly popular option for non-traditional students such
as working adults. While more convenient for students, faculty
who teach these courses must be able to adapt existing courses
to make them successful online or design a new course that takes
advantage of the format.
Most faculty members serve on academic or administrative committees
that deal with the policies of their institution, departmental
matters, academic issues, curricula, budgets, equipment purchases,
and hiring. Some work with student and community organizations.
Department chairpersons are faculty members who usually teach
some courses but have heavier administrative responsibilities.
The proportion of time spent on research, teaching, administrative,
and other duties varies by individual circumstance and type of
institution. Faculty members at universities normally spend a
significant part of their time doing research; those in 4-year
colleges, somewhat less; and those in 2-year colleges, relatively
little. The teaching load, however, often is heavier in 2-year
colleges and somewhat lighter at 4-year institutions. Full professors
at all types of institutions usually spend a larger portion of
their time conducting research than do assistant professors, instructors,
In addition to traditional 2- and 4-year institutions, an increasing
number of faculty work in alternative schools or in programs that
are aimed at providing career-related education for working adults.
Courses are usually offered online or on nights and weekends.
Faculty at these programs generally work part time and are only
responsible for teaching, with little to no administrative and
Postsecondary vocational education teachers, also known
as postsecondary career and technical education teachers,
provide instruction for occupations that require specialized training,
but may not require a 4-year degree, such as welder, dental hygienist,
x-ray technician, auto mechanic, and cosmetologist. Classes often
are taught in an industrial or laboratory setting where students
are provided hands-on experience. For example, welding instructors
show students various welding techniques and essential safety
practices, watch them use tools and equipment, and have them repeat
procedures until they meet the specific standards required by
the trade. Increasingly, career and technical education teachers
are integrating academic and vocational curriculums so that students
obtain a variety of skills that can be applied to the “real world.”
Career and technical education teachers have many of the same
responsibilities that other college and university faculty have.
They must prepare lessons, grade papers, attend faculty meetings,
and keep abreast of developments in their field. Career and technical
education teachers at community colleges and career and technical
schools also often play a key role in students’ transition from
school to work by helping to establish internship programs for
students and by facilitating contact between students and prospective
Graduate teaching assistants, often referred to as graduate
TAs, assist faculty, department chairs, or other professional
staff at colleges and universities by performing teaching or teaching-related
duties. In addition to their work responsibilities, assistants
have their own school commitments, as they are also students who
are working towards earning a graduate degree, such as a Ph.D.
Some teaching assistants have full responsibility for teaching
a course—usually one that is introductory in nature—which can
include preparation of lectures and exams, and assigning final
grades to students. Others provide assistance to faculty members,
which may consist of a variety of tasks such as grading papers,
monitoring exams, holding office hours or help-sessions for students,
conducting laboratory sessions, or administering quizzes to the
class. Teaching assistants generally meet initially with the faculty
member whom they are going to assist in order to determine exactly
what is expected of them, as each faculty member may have his
or her own needs. For example, some faculty members prefer assistants
to sit in on classes, while others assign them other tasks to
do during class time. Graduate teaching assistants may work one-on-one
with a faculty member or, for large classes, they may be one of
Postsecondary teachers who work full time usually have flexible
schedules. They must be present for classes, usually 12 to 16
hours per week, and for faculty and committee meetings. Most establish
regular office hours for student consultations, usually 3 to 6
hours per week. Otherwise, teachers are free to decide when and
where they will work, and how much time to devote to course preparation,
grading, study, research, graduate student supervision, and other
Some teach night and weekend classes. This is particularly true
for teachers at 2-year community colleges or institutions with
large enrollments of older students who have full-time jobs or
family responsibilities. Most colleges and universities require
teachers to work 9 months of the year, which allows them the time
to teach additional courses, do research, travel, or pursue nonacademic
interests during the summer and school holidays. Colleges and
universities usually have funds to support research or other professional
development needs of full time faculty, including travel to conferences
and research sites.
About 3 out of 10 college and university faculty worked part
time in 2004. Some part-timers, known as “adjunct faculty,” have
primary jobs outside of academia—in government, private industry,
or nonprofit research—and teach “on the side.” Others prefer to
work part-time hours or seek full-time jobs but are unable to
obtain them due to intense competition for available openings.
Some work part time in more than one institution. Some adjunct
faculty are not qualified for tenure-track positions because they
lack a doctoral degree.
University faculty may experience a conflict between their responsibilities
to teach students and the pressure to do research and publish
their findings. This may be a particular problem for young faculty
seeking advancement in 4-year research universities. Also, recent
cutbacks in support workers and the hiring of more part-time faculty
have put a greater administrative burden on full-time faculty.
Requirements to teach online classes also have added greatly to
the workloads of postsecondary teachers. Many find that developing
the courses to put online, plus learning how to operate the technology
and answering large amounts of e-mail, is very time-consuming.
Graduate TAs usually have flexibility in their work schedules
like college and university faculty, but they also must spend
a considerable amount of time pursuing their own academic coursework
and studies. The number of hours that TAs work varies, depending
on their assignments. Work may be stressful, particularly when
assistants are given full responsibility for teaching a class;
however, these types of positions allow graduate students the
opportunity to gain valuable teaching experience. This experience
is especially helpful for those graduate teaching assistants who
seek to become faculty members at colleges and universities after
completing their degree.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
The education and training required of postsecondary teachers
varies widely, depending on the subject taught and educational
institution employing them. Educational requirements for teachers
are generally the highest at 4-year research universities while
experience and expertise in a related occupation is the principal
qualification at career and technical institutes.
Postsecondary teachers should communicate and relate well with
students, enjoy working with them, and be able to motivate them.
They should have inquiring and analytical minds, and a strong
desire to pursue and disseminate knowledge. Additionally, they
must be self-motivated and able to work in an environment in which
they receive little direct supervision.
Training requirements for postsecondary career and technical
education teachers vary by State and by subject. In general, teachers
need a bachelor’s or higher degree, plus at least 3 years of work
experience in their field. In some fields, a license or certificate
that demonstrates one’s qualifications may be all that is required.
Teachers update their skills through continuing education, in
order to maintain certification. They must also maintain ongoing
dialogue with businesses to determine the most current skills
needed in the workplace.
Four-year colleges and universities usually consider doctoral
degree holders for full-time, tenure-track positions, but may
hire master’s degree holders or doctoral candidates for certain
disciplines, such as the arts, or for part-time and temporary
jobs. Most college and university faculty are in four academic
ranks—professor, associate professor, assistant professor, and
instructor. These positions usually are considered to be tenure-track
positions. Most faculty members are hired as instructors or assistant
professors. A smaller number of additional faculty members, called
lecturers, are usually employed on contracts for a single academic
term and are not on the tenure track.
In 2-year colleges, master’s degree holders fill most full-time
positions. However, in certain fields where there may be more
applicants than available jobs, institutions can be more selective
in their hiring practices. In these fields, Master’s degree holders
may be passed over in favor of candidates holding Ph.Ds. Many
2-year institutions increasingly prefer job applicants to have
some teaching experience or experience with distance learning.
Preference also may be given to those holding dual master’s degrees,
especially at smaller institutions, because they can teach more
Schools and programs that provide education and training for
working adults generally hire people who are experienced in the
field to teach part time. A master’s degree is also usually required.
Doctoral programs take an average of 6 years of full-time study
beyond the bachelor’s degree, including time spent completing
a master’s degree and a dissertation. Some programs, such as those
in the humanities, may take longer to complete; others, such as
those in engineering, usually are shorter. Candidates specialize
in a subfield of a discipline—for example, organic chemistry,
counseling psychology, or European history—but also take courses
covering the entire discipline. Programs typically include 20
or more increasingly specialized courses and seminars plus comprehensive
examinations on all major areas of the field. Candidates also
must complete a dissertation—a written report on original research
in the candidate’s major field of study. The dissertation sets
forth an original hypothesis or proposes a model and tests it.
Students in the natural sciences and engineering usually do laboratory
work; in the humanities, they study original documents and other
published material. The dissertation is done under the guidance
of one or more faculty advisors and usually takes 1 or 2 years
of full-time work.
Some students, particularly those who studied in the natural
sciences, spend additional years after earning their degree on
postdoctoral research and study before taking a faculty position.
Some Ph.D.s are able to extend postdoctoral appointments, or take
new ones, if they are unable to find a faculty job. Most of these
appointments offer a nominal salary.
Obtaining a position as a graduate teaching assistant is a good
way to gain college teaching experience. To qualify, candidates
must be enrolled in a graduate school program. In addition, some
colleges and universities require teaching assistants to attend
classes or take some training prior to being given responsibility
for a course.
Although graduate teaching assistants usually work at the institution
and in the department where they are earning their degree, teaching
or internship positions for graduate students at institutions
that do not grant a graduate degree have become more common in
recent years. For example, a program called Preparing Future Faculty,
administered by the Association of American Colleges and Universities
and the Council of Graduate Schools, has led to the creation of
many now-independent programs that offer graduate students at
research universities the opportunity to work as teaching assistants
at other types of institutions, such as liberal arts or community
colleges. Working with a mentor, the graduate students teach classes
and learn how to improve their teaching techniques. They may attend
faculty and committee meetings, develop a curriculum, and learn
how to balance the teaching, research, and administrative roles
that faculty play. These programs provide valuable learning opportunities
for graduate students interested in teaching at the postsecondary
level, and also help to make these students aware of the differences
among the various types of institutions at which they may someday
For faculty, a major step in the traditional academic career
is attaining tenure. New tenure-track faculty usually are hired
as instructors or assistant professors, and must serve a period—usually
7 years—under term contracts. At the end of the period, their
record of teaching, research, and overall contribution to the
institution is reviewed; tenure is granted if the review is favorable.
Those denied tenure usually must leave the institution. Tenured
professors cannot be fired without just cause and due process.
Tenure protects the faculty’s academic freedom—the ability to
teach and conduct research without fear of being fired for advocating
controversial or unpopular ideas. It also gives both faculty and
institutions the stability needed for effective research and teaching,
and provides financial security for faculty. Some institutions
have adopted post-tenure review policies to encourage ongoing
evaluation of tenured faculty.
The number of tenure-track positions is declining as institutions
seek flexibility in dealing with financial matters and changing
student interests. Institutions rely more heavily on limited term
contracts and part-time, or adjunct, faculty, thus shrinking the
total pool of tenured faculty. Limited-term contracts—typically
2- to 5 years, may be terminated or extended when they expire,
but generally do not lead to the granting of tenure. In addition,
some institutions have limited the percentage of faculty who can
For most postsecondary teachers, advancement involves a move
into administrative and managerial positions, such as departmental
chairperson, dean, and president. At 4-year institutions, such
advancement requires a doctoral degree. At 2-year colleges, a
doctorate is helpful but not usually required, except for advancement
to some top administrative positions. (Deans and departmental
chairpersons are covered in the career
database on education administrators, while college presidents
are included in the career database on top executives.)
Postsecondary teachers held nearly 1.6 million jobs in 2004.
Most were employed in public and private 4-year colleges and universities
and in 2-year community colleges. Other postsecondary teachers
are employed by schools and institutes that specialize in training
people in a specific field, such as technology centers or culinary
schools, or work for businesses that provide professional development
courses to employees of companies. Some career and technical education
teachers work for State and local governments and job training
facilities. The following tabulation shows postsecondary teaching
jobs in specialties having 20,000 or more jobs in 2004:
|Health specialties teachers
|Graduate teaching assistants
|Vocational education teachers
|Art, drama, and music teachers
|Biological science teachers
|English language and literature teachers
|Mathematical science teachers
|Computer science teachers
|Nursing instructors and teachers
|Foreign language and literature teachers
|Philosophy and religion teachers
Overall, employment of postsecondary teachers is expected to
grow much faster than the average for all occupations through
2014. A significant proportion of these new jobs will be part-time
positions. Job opportunities are generally expected to be very
good—although they will vary somewhat from field to field—as numerous
openings for all types of postsecondary teachers result from retirements
of current postsecondary teachers and continued increases in student
Projected growth in college and university enrollment over the
next decade stems mainly from the expected increase in the population
of 18- to 24-year-olds, who constitute the majority of students
at postsecondary institutions, and from the increasing number
of high school graduates who choose to attend these institutions.
Adults returning to college to enhance their career prospects
or to update their skills also will continue to create new opportunities
for postsecondary teachers, particularly at community colleges
and for-profit institutions that cater to working adults. However,
many postsecondary educational institutions receive a significant
portion of their funding from State and local governments, so
expansion of public higher education will be limited by State
and local budgets. Nevertheless, in addition to growth in enrollments,
the need to replace the large numbers of postsecondary teachers
who are likely to retire over the next decade will also create
a significant number of openings. Many postsecondary teachers
were hired in the late 1960s and the 1970s to teach members of
the baby boom generation, and they are expected to retire in growing
numbers in the years ahead.
Ph.D. recipients seeking jobs as postsecondary teachers will
experience favorable job prospects over the next decade. While
competition will remain tight for tenure-track positions at 4-year
colleges and universities, there will be a considerable number
of part-time or renewable, term appointments at these institutions
and positions at community colleges available to them. Opportunities
for master’s degree holders are also expected to be favorable,
as community colleges and other institutions that employ them,
such as professional career education programs, are expected to
experience considerable growth.
Opportunities for graduate teaching assistants are expected to
be very good due to prospects for much higher undergraduate enrollments
coupled with more modest graduate enrollment increases. Constituting
almost 9 percent of all postsecondary teachers, graduate teaching
assistants play an integral role in the postsecondary education
system, and they are expected to continue to do so in the future.
One of the main reasons why students attend postsecondary institutions
is to prepare themselves for careers, so the best job prospects
for postsecondary teachers are likely to be in fields where job
growth is expected to be strong over the next decade. These will
include fields such as business, health specialties, nursing,
and biological sciences. Community colleges and other institutions
offering career and technical education have been among the most
rapidly growing, and these institutions are expected to offer
some of the best opportunities for postsecondary teachers.
Median annual earnings of all postsecondary teachers in May 2004
were $51,800. The middle 50 percent earned between $36,590 and
$72,490. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,460, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $99,980.
Earnings for college faculty vary according to rank and type
of institution, geographic area, and field. According to a 2004-05
survey by the American Association of University Professors, salaries
for full-time faculty averaged $68,505. By rank, the average was
$91,548 for professors, $65,113 for associate professors, $54,571
for assistant professors, $39,899 for instructors, and $45,647
for lecturers. Faculty in 4-year institutions earn higher salaries,
on average, than do those in 2-year schools. In 2004-05, faculty
salaries averaged $79,342 in private independent institutions,
$66,851 in public institutions, and $61,103 in religiously affiliated
private colleges and universities. In fields with high-paying
nonacademic alternatives—medicine, law, engineering, and business,
among others—earnings exceed these averages. In others fields—such
as the humanities and education—they are lower.
Many faculty members have significant earnings in addition to
their base salary, from consulting, teaching additional courses,
research, writing for publication, or other employment. In addition,
many college and university faculty enjoy some unique benefits,
including access to campus facilities, tuition waivers for dependents,
housing and travel allowances, and paid sabbatical leaves. Part-time
faculty usually have fewer benefits than full-time faculty.
Earnings for postsecondary career and technical education teachers
vary widely by subject, academic credentials, experience, and
region of the country. Part-time instructors usually receive few
Postsecondary teaching requires the ability to communicate ideas
well, motivate students, and be creative. Workers in other occupations
that require these skills are teachers—preschool, kindergarten,
elementary, middle, and secondary; education administrators;
librarians; counselors; writers and editors;
specialists; and management analysts.
Faculty research activities often are similar to those of scientists,
as well as to those of managers and administrators in industry,
government, and nonprofit research organizations.
|Sources of Additional Information
Professional societies related to a field of study often provide
information on academic and nonacademic employment opportunities.
Names and addresses of many of these societies appear in statements
elsewhere in the Handbook.
Special publications on higher education, such as The Chronicle
of Higher Education, specific employment opportunities for
faculty. These publications are available in libraries.
For information on the Preparing Future Faculty program, contact:
For information on postsecondary career and technical education
teaching positions, contact State departments of career and technical
education. General information on adult and career and technical
education is available from:
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,