College and University Faculty Career Information
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Significant Points· College faculty usually need a Ph.D. for full-time, tenure-track positions
in 4-year colleges and universities.
· Requirements for postsecondary vocational-technical education teachers include work experience, and formal education ranging from a license or certificate to a college degree.
· The job market in colleges and universities is expected to improve, but many new openings will be for part-time or nontenure track positions.
· Job prospects will continue to be better in certain fields—computer science, engineering, and business, for example—that offer attractive nonacademic job opportunities and attract fewer applicants for academic positions.
Nature of the WorkCollege and university faculty,
who make up the majority of postsecondary teachers, teach and advise nearly
15 million full- and part-time college students and perform a significant part
of our Nation’s research. Faculty also keep up with developments in their field
and consult with government, business, nonprofit, and community organizations.
Faculty usually are organized into departments or divisions, based on subject or field. They usually teach several different courses—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 also do their own research to expand knowledge in their field. They 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 media.
College and university faculty use technology in all areas of their work. In the classroom, they may use computers—including the Internet; electronic mail; software programs, such as statistical packages; and CD-ROMs—as teaching aids. Faculty post course content, class notes, class schedules, and other information on the Internet. Increasingly, faculty are using sophisticated telecommunications and videoconferencing equipment and the Internet to teach courses to students at remote sites. The use of e-mail, chat rooms, and other techniques has greatly improved communications between students and teachers and among students.
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 lower 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, and lecturers.
Postsecondary vocational-technical education teachers provide instruction for occupations that do not require a college 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, watch them use tools and equipment, and have them repeat procedures until they meet the specific standards required by the trade. Increasingly, vocational-technical education teachers are integrating academic and vocational curriculums so students obtain a variety of skills that can be applied to the “real world.”
Vocational-technical education teachers have many of the same responsibilities as college and university faculty. They must prepare lessons, grade papers, attend faculty meetings, and keep abreast of developments in their field. Along with the community colleges, vocational-technical schools also are playing a greater role in students’ transition from school to work by helping establish internships and by providing information about prospective employers.
Working ConditionsPostsecondary teachers 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 activities.
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, including travel to conferences and research sites.
About 3 out of 10 college and university faculty worked part time in 2000. 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. Many 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 to publish their findings. This may be a particular problem for young faculty seeking advancement in 4-year research universities. Also, recent cutbacks and the hiring of more part-time faculty have put a greater administrative burden on full-time faculty. Requirements to teach online classes have also added greatly to the workloads of postsecondary teachers. Developing the courses to put online, plus learning how to operate the technology and answering large amounts of e-mail, is very time-consuming.
Postsecondary teachers held nearly 1.6 million jobs in 2009. 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 2009:
|Health specialties teachers||150,000|
|Graduate teaching assistants||143,000|
|Vocational education teachers||127,000|
|Art, drama, and music teachers||78,000|
|Biological science teachers||76,000|
|English language and literature teachers||69,000|
|Mathematical science teachers||53,000|
|Computer science teachers||45,000|
|Nursing instructors and teachers||41,000|
|Foreign language and literature teachers||27,000|
|Philosophy and religion teachers||23,000|
Training, Qualifications, Adv.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. A small number of faculty, called
lecturers, usually are not on the tenure track.
Most faculty members are hired as instructors or assistant professors. 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. In 2-year colleges, master’s degree holders fill most full-time positions. However, with increasing competition for available jobs, institutions can be more selective in their hiring practices. Master’s degree holders may find it increasingly difficult to obtain employment as they are passed over in favor of candidates holding a Ph.D.
Doctoral programs, including time spent completing a master’s degree and a dissertation, take an average of 6 to 8 years of full-time study beyond the bachelor’s degree. Some programs, such as the humanities, take longer to complete; others, such as 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 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, done under the guidance of one or more faculty advisors, usually takes 1 or 2 years of full-time work.
In some fields, particularly the natural sciences, some students spend an additional 2 years on postdoctoral research and study before taking a faculty position. Some Ph.D.’s extend postdoctoral appointments, or take new ones, if they are unable to find a faculty job. Most of these appointments offer a nominal salary.
A program called Preparing Future Faculty, administered by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools, offers graduate students at research universities the opportunity to apprentice at local liberal arts 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.
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 certain period (usually 7 years) under term contracts. At the end of the contract period, their record of teaching, research, and overall contribution to the institution is reviewed; tenure is granted if the review is favorable. According to the American Association of University Professors, about 63 percent of all full-time faculty held tenure, and about 86 percent were in tenure-track positions, during the 1999-2000 school year. 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 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 expected to decline as institutions seek flexibility in dealing with financial matters and changing student interests. Institutions will rely more heavily on limited term contracts and part-time, or adjunct, faculty, shrinking the total pool of tenured faculty. Some institutions offer limited term contracts to prospective faculty—typically 2-, 3-, or 5-year, full-time contracts. These contracts may be terminated or extended at the end of the period. Institutions are not obligated to grant tenure to these contract holders. In addition, some institutions have limited the percentage of faculty who can be tenured.
Training requirements for postsecondary vocational-technical education teachers vary by State and by subject. In general, teachers need a bachelor’s degree or higher plus work or other 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 to maintain certification. They must also maintain ongoing dialogue with businesses to determine the most current skills needed in the workplace.
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.
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 where they receive little direct supervision.
Welfare-to-work policies and the growing need to regularly update one’s skills will continue to create new opportunities for postsecondary teachers, particularly at community colleges. There also is expected to be a large number of openings due to the retirements of faculty who were hired in the late '60s and '70s to teach the baby boomers. In contrast, the number of doctorate degrees is projected to rise by only 4 percent over the 2000-10 period, which is sharply lower than the increase over the previous decade. A surplus of Ph.D. candidates in recent years has contributed to intense competition for college faculty jobs. Although the competition for jobs should ease somewhat, it will remain tight for those seeking tenure-track positions at 4-year colleges and universities. Many of the jobs opening up are expected to be part time or renewable, term appointments. The best job prospects will continue to be in the computer sciences, engineering, and business fields in which jobs outside academia are plentiful. Vocational-technical education teachers also are in short supply in the computer, business, and health-related fields. Distance learning, particularly over the Internet, is expected to create a number of new jobs for postsecondary teachers, as this method of education reaches students who would not be able to attend a traditional classroom. Those in rural areas and with family responsibilities are embracing distance education as a way to get the education they want, while minimizing the commute to a campus. In addition, employers are expected to use distance learning as a way to update their employees’ skills. The Army has recently announced plans to offer distance learning to its troops. Increasing demand for distance education will result in the need for more teachers of online classes, both at traditional colleges and universities and at new online universities.
Job OutlookThe job outlook for postsecondary teachers should be much brighter than it has been in recent years. Employment is expected to
Welfare-to-work policies and the growing need to regularly update one’s skills will continue to create new opportunities for postsecondary teachers, particularly at community colleges. There also is expected to be a large number of openings due to the retirements of faculty who were hired in the late '60s and '70s to teach the baby boomers. In contrast, the number of doctorate degrees is projected to rise by only 4 percent over the 2000-10 period, which is sharply lower than the increase over the previous decade. A surplus of Ph.D. candidates in recent years has contributed to intense competition for college faculty jobs.
Although the competition for jobs should ease somewhat, it will remain tight for those seeking tenure-track positions at 4-year colleges and universities. Many of the jobs opening up are expected to be part time or renewable, term appointments. The best job prospects will continue to be in the computer sciences, engineering, and business fields in which jobs outside academia are plentiful. Vocational-technical education teachers also are in short supply in the computer, business, and health-related fields.
Distance learning, particularly over the Internet, is expected to create a number of new jobs for postsecondary teachers, as this method of education reaches students who would not be able to attend a traditional classroom. Those in rural areas and with family responsibilities are embracing distance education as a way to get the education they want, while minimizing the commute to a campus. In addition, employers are expected to use distance learning as a way to update their employees’ skills. The Army has recently announced plans to offer distance learning to its troops. Increasing demand for distance education will result in the need for more teachers of online classes, both at traditional colleges and universities and at new online universities.
Median annual earnings of all postsecondary teachers in May 2009 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 2008-2009 survey by the American Association of University Professors, salaries for full-time faculty averaged $78,505. 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 2008-09, 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 benefits.
Related OccupationsPostsecondary teaching requires the ability to communicate ideas well, motivate students, and be creative. Workers in other occupations that require these skills are
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, list 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:
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, list 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: