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Postsecondary instructors train and mentor the next generation of workers. They must remain on the cutting edge of whatever discipline they teach but must also know how to teach and engage students of different backgrounds and learning styles. Many also spearhead, conduct, and report on the research that advances their respective fields. Doing all of these things well can require a combination of industry experience and formal training through higher education programs.

Higher education degrees: What to expect

Some higher education degrees are more general, while others are specialized by intended discipline. Their common goal, however, is to prepare students for careers in academia. According to The College Board, higher education majors must learn how to teach and design classes, grade papers, mentor students, conduct research, and even publish papers. Coursework vary by program typically covers the following topics:

  • Education policy, organization and leadership
  • The history of higher education
  • The economics of higher education
  • Student development
  • Higher education philosophy
  • Higher education administration
  • Multicultural issues in higher education

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that most postsecondary instructors need a doctoral degree. Many begin by earning a bachelor's degree in a relevant field and then move on to a graduate-level higher education degree program.

Most professors need several years of teaching experience before can attain tenure. Part-time and un-tenured professionals are often called associate or assistant professors.

Potential careers for higher education majors

While teaching college students is a common career path for higher education majors, it is not their only option. Below are just a few potential careers for these students, along with key employment and education trends from the BLS:

  • Postsecondary teachers -- Postsecondary teachers instruct college-level courses in public or private institutions. They lead classes, grade papers and mentor students. Most colleges require professors to have doctoral degrees in a field relevant to the discipline they intend to teach, but in some cases, master's degrees or relevant, exceptional work experience can suffice. The BLS predicts overall employment for postsecondary instructors to grow by about 19 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022. Growth percentages, however, vary by discipline.
  • Vocational, career and technical education teachers -- Vocational and career instructors teach skilled, technical trades such as auto repair, welding or culinary arts, usually at career schools and community colleges. The BLS states that most employers require candidates to have a bachelor's degree. Educational and certification requirements, however, vary by state and institution. The BLS projects national demand for vocational and technical instructors to grow by 9 percent between 2012 and 2022. Experienced candidates and individuals who teach high-demand fields, such as nursing and business, may have better job prospects.
  • Postsecondary education administrators -- College administrators oversee academics, university student services and faculty research activities. Examples of administrators include admissions directors, academic deans and registrars. According to the BLS, although a bachelor's degree is acceptable for some entry-level positions, colleges increasingly prefer to hire candidates with master's degrees or higher, especially when hiring deans and department heads. National demand for college administrators is expected to grow by 15 percent between 2012 and 2022.

Higher education degree programs could help provide students with skills fit for the above and related jobs. Prospective students can learn more about higher education degree programs and relevant careers by visiting The College Board and BLS websites or by contacting institutions directly.

Sources:
"Career: Postsecondary Teachers," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/careers/education-museum-work-library-science-postsecondary-teachers
"Career and Technical Education Teachers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/career-and-technical-education-teachers.htm
"Higher Education Degree Programs," Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, https://ed.stanford.edu/academics/he-degree-programs
"Major: Higher Education Administration," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/education-education-administration-supervision-higher-education-administration
"Postsecondary Education Administrators," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/postsecondary-education-administrators.htm
"Postsecondary Teachers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm

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