Postsecondary Teachers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Postsecondary Teachers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They may also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

Duties of Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers typically do the following:

  • Teach courses in their subject area
  • Work with students who are taking classes to improve their knowledge or career skills
  • Develop an instructional plan (known as a course outline or syllabus) for the course(s) they teach and ensure that it meets college and department standards
  • Plan lessons and assignments
  • Work with colleagues to develop or modify the curriculum for a degree or certificate program involving a series of courses
  • Assess students' progress by grading assignments, papers, exams, and other work
  • Advise students about which classes to take and how to achieve their goals
  • Stay informed about changes and innovations in their field

Postsecondary teachers, often referred to as professors or faculty, specialize in a variety of subjects and fields. At colleges and universities, professors are organized into departments that specialize in a degree field, such as history, science, business, or music. A professor may teach one or more courses within that department. For example, a mathematics professor may teach calculus, statistics, and a graduate seminar in a very specific area of mathematics.

Postsecondary teachers' duties vary with their positions in a university or college. In large colleges or universities, they may spend their time teaching, conducting research or experiments, publishing original research, applying for grants to fund their research, or supervising graduate teaching assistants who are teaching classes.

Postsecondary teachers who work in small colleges and universities or in community colleges often spend more time teaching classes and working with students. They may spend some time conducting research, but they do not have as much time to devote to it.

Full-time professors, particularly those who have tenure (a professor who cannot be fired without just cause), often are expected to spend more time on their research. They also may be expected to serve on more college and university committees.

Part-time professors, often known as adjunct professors, spend most of their time teaching students.

Professors may teach large classes of several hundred students (often with the help of graduate teaching assistants), smaller classes of about 40 to 50 students, seminars with just a few students, or laboratories where students practice the subject matter. They work with an increasingly varied student population as more part-time, older, and culturally diverse students are going to postsecondary schools.

Professors read scholarly articles, talk with colleagues, and participate in professional conferences to keep up with developments in their field. A tenured professor must do original research, document their analyses or critical reviews, and publish their findings.

Some postsecondary teachers work for online universities or teach online classes. They use the Internet to present lessons and information, to assign and accept students' work, and to participate in course discussions. Online professors use email, phone, and video chat apps to communicate with students, and might never meet their students in person.

Work Environment for Postsecondary Teachers[About this section] [To Top]

Postsecondary teachers hold about 1.3 million jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up postsecondary teachers is distributed as follows:

Health specialties teachers, postsecondary 233,500
Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary 122,500
Business teachers, postsecondary 104,200
English language and literature teachers, postsecondary 84,600
Education teachers, postsecondary 74,500
Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary 67,900
Biological science teachers, postsecondary 62,300
Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary 60,900
Engineering teachers, postsecondary 47,600
Psychology teachers, postsecondary 46,900
Computer science teachers, postsecondary 39,700
Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary 35,000
Communications teachers, postsecondary 34,100
Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary 31,800
History teachers, postsecondary 26,900
Chemistry teachers, postsecondary 26,300
Law teachers, postsecondary 21,200
Political science teachers, postsecondary 21,200
Sociology teachers, postsecondary 17,900
Physics teachers, postsecondary 17,600
Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary 17,300
Economics teachers, postsecondary 16,500
Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other 15,300
Social work teachers, postsecondary 14,900
Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary 13,100
Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary 12,600
Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary 11,500
Architecture teachers, postsecondary 9,500
Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary 7,100
Environmental science teachers, postsecondary 6,900
Library science teachers, postsecondary 6,000
Geography teachers, postsecondary 5,000
Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary 2,200

The largest employers of postsecondary teachers are as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; private 39%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 37
Junior colleges; local 12
Junior colleges; state 6

Many postsecondary teachers find their jobs rewarding because they are surrounded by others who enjoy the subject they teach. The opportunity to share their expertise with others is appealing to many.

However, some postsecondary teachers must find a balance between teaching students and doing research and publishing their findings. This can be stressful, especially for beginning teachers seeking advancement in 4-year research universities. At the community college level, professors focus mainly on teaching students and administrative duties.

Classes are generally held during the day, although some are offered in the evenings and weekends to accommodate students who have jobs or family obligations.

Although some postsecondary teachers teach summer courses, many use that time to conduct research, involve themselves in professional development, or to travel.

Postsecondary Teacher Work Schedules

Many postsecondary teachers teach part time, and may teach courses at several colleges or universities. Some may have a full-time job in their field of expertise in addition to a part-time teaching position. For example, an active lawyer or judge might teach a law school class during the evening.

Postsecondary teachers' schedules generally are flexible. Full-time teachers need to be on campus to teach classes and have office hours. Otherwise, they are free to set their schedule to prepare for classes and grade assignments. They may also spend time carrying out administrative responsibilities, such as serving on committees.

How to Become a Postsecondary Teacher[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Postsecondary Teachers near you!

Educational requirements vary with the subject taught and the type of educational institution. Typically postsecondary teachers must have a Ph.D. However, a master's degree may be enough for some postsecondary teachers at community colleges. Other postsecondary teachers may need work experience in their field of expertise.

Education for Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers who work for 4-year colleges and universities typically need a doctoral degree in their field. Some schools may hire those with a master's degree or those who are doctoral degree candidates for some specialties, such as fine arts, or for some part-time positions.

Doctoral programs generally take multiple years to complete, and students must already possess a bachelor's or master's degree before enrolling in a doctoral program. Doctoral students spend time writing a doctoral dissertation, which is a paper presenting original research in the student's field of study. Candidates usually specialize in a subfield, such as organic chemistry or European history.

Community colleges or career and technical schools also may hire those with a master's degree. However, some fields have more applicants than available positions. In these situations, institutions can be more selective, and they frequently choose applicants who have a Ph.D. over those with a master's degree.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation for Postsecondary Teachers

Some institutions may prefer to hire those with teaching or other work experience, but this is not a requirement for all fields or for all employers.

In health specialties, art, law, or education fields, hands-on work experience in the industry can be important. Postsecondary teachers in these fields often gain experience by working in an occupation related to their field of expertise.

In fields such as biological science, physics, and chemistry, some postsecondary teachers have postdoctoral research experience. These short-term jobs, sometimes called "post-docs," usually involve working for 2 to 3 years as a research associate or in a similar position, often at a college or university.

Some postsecondary teachers gain teaching experience by working as graduate teaching assistants—students who are enrolled in a graduate program and teach classes in the institution in which they are enrolled.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers who prepare students for an occupation that requires a license, certification, or registration, may need to have—or they may benefit from having—the same credential. For example, a postsecondary nursing teacher might need a nursing license or a postsecondary education teacher might need a teaching license.

Advancement for Postsecondary Teachers

A major goal for postsecondary teachers with a doctoral degree is attaining a tenure—a guarantee that a professor cannot be fired without just cause. It can take up to 7 years of moving up the ranks in tenure-track positions. The ranks are assistant professor, associate professor, and professor. Tenure is granted through a review of the candidate's research, contribution to the institution, and teaching.

Tenure and tenure-track positions are declining as institutions are relying more heavily on part-time professors.

Some tenured professors advance to administrative positions, such as dean or president. For information on deans and other administrative positions, see the profile on postsecondary education administrators. For more information about college and university presidents, see the profile on top executives.

Important Qualities for Postsecondary Teachers

Critical-thinking skills. To challenge established theories and beliefs, conduct original research, and design experiments, postsecondary teachers need to apply analyses and logic to arrive at sound conclusions.

Interpersonal skills. Most postsecondary teachers need to be able to work well with others and must have good communication skills to serve on committees and give lectures.

Resourcefulness. Postsecondary teachers need to be able to present information in a way that students will understand. They need to adapt to the different learning styles of their students and teach students who have little or no experience with the subject.

Speaking skills. Postsecondary teachers need good verbal skills to give lectures.

Writing skills. Postsecondary teachers need to be skilled writers to publish original research and analysis.

Postsecondary Teacher Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for postsecondary teachers is $75,430. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,290, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $168,270.

Median annual wages for postsecondary teachers are as follows:

Law teachers, postsecondary $111,210
Health specialties teachers, postsecondary 99,360
Engineering teachers, postsecondary 97,530
Economics teachers, postsecondary 95,770
Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary 91,580
Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary 85,880
Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary 85,410
Physics teachers, postsecondary 84,570
Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary 81,350
Architecture teachers, postsecondary 79,250
Political science teachers, postsecondary 79,210
Environmental science teachers, postsecondary 78,340
Computer science teachers, postsecondary 77,570
Business teachers, postsecondary 77,490
Geography teachers, postsecondary 76,810
Chemistry teachers, postsecondary 76,750
Biological science teachers, postsecondary 76,650
Psychology teachers, postsecondary 73,140
Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary 73,020
Sociology teachers, postsecondary 71,840
History teachers, postsecondary 71,820
Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other 70,740
Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary 69,520
Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary 69,130
Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary 68,650
Library science teachers, postsecondary 68,410
Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary 68,360
Communications teachers, postsecondary 65,640
Social work teachers, postsecondary 64,030
English language and literature teachers, postsecondary 63,730
Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary 63,500
Education teachers, postsecondary 62,520
Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary 59,590

The median annual wages for postsecondary teachers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state $78,610
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; private 77,600
Junior colleges; local 75,730
Junior colleges; state 54,790

Wages can vary by institution type. Postsecondary teachers typically have higher wages in colleges, universities, and professional schools than they do in community colleges or other types of schools.

Many postsecondary teachers work part time. They may work part time at several colleges or universities, or have a full-time job in their field of expertise in addition to a part-time teaching position.

Postsecondary teachers' schedules generally are flexible. Full-time teachers need to be on campus to teach classes and have office hours. Otherwise, they are free to set their schedule to prepare for classes and grade assignments. They may also spend time carrying out administrative responsibilities, such as serving on committees.

Job Outlook for Postsecondary Teachers[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 15 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. Both part-time and full-time postsecondary teachers are included in this projection.

The number of people attending postsecondary institutions is expected to grow in the next decade. Students will continue to seek higher education to gain the additional education and skills necessary to meet their career goals. As more people enter colleges and universities, more postsecondary teachers will be needed to serve these additional students. Colleges and universities are likely to hire more part-time teachers to meet this demand. In all disciplines, there is expected to be a limited number of full-time nontenure and full-time tenure positions.

However, despite expected increases in enrollment, employment growth in public colleges and universities will depend on state and local government budgets. If budgets for higher education are reduced, employment growth may be limited.

Overall employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to increase, but it will vary by field. For example, employment of health specialties teachers is projected to grow 26 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. As an aging population increasingly demands healthcare services, additional postsecondary teachers are expected to be needed to help educate the workers who will provide these services.

Job Prospects for Postsecondary Teachers

There are expected to be more job opportunities for part-time postsecondary teachers since many institutions are filling vacancies with part-time rather than full-time teachers. There will be a limited number of full-time tenure-track positions and competition is expected to be high.

Some fields, such as health specialties and nursing, will likely experience better job prospects than others, such as those in the humanities.

Employment projections data for Postsecondary Teachers, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Postsecondary teachers 1,314,400 1,511,900 15 197,500
  Business teachers, postsecondary 104,200 123,000 18 18,900
  Computer science teachers, postsecondary 39,700 42,800 8 3,200
  Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary 60,900 66,600 9 5,600
  Architecture teachers, postsecondary 9,500 10,500 11 1,000
  Engineering teachers, postsecondary 47,600 54,600 15 6,900
  Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary 12,600 13,600 8 900
  Biological science teachers, postsecondary 62,300 71,700 15 9,400
  Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary 2,200 2,300 8 200
  Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary 13,100 14,400 10 1,300
  Chemistry teachers, postsecondary 26,300 28,900 10 2,600
  Environmental science teachers, postsecondary 6,900 7,600 10 700
  Physics teachers, postsecondary 17,600 19,400 10 1,800
  Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary 7,100 7,800 10 700
  Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary 11,500 12,700 10 1,200
  Economics teachers, postsecondary 16,500 18,200 11 1,800
  Geography teachers, postsecondary 5,000 5,400 8 400
  Political science teachers, postsecondary 21,200 23,400 11 2,200
  Psychology teachers, postsecondary 46,900 54,000 15 7,100
  Sociology teachers, postsecondary 17,900 19,600 10 1,700
  Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other 15,300 16,800 10 1,500
  Health specialties teachers, postsecondary 233,500 294,000 26 60,500
  Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary 67,900 84,200 24 16,300
  Education teachers, postsecondary 74,500 82,200 10 7,700
  Library science teachers, postsecondary 6,000 6,500 9 500
  Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary 17,300 19,400 12 2,200
  Law teachers, postsecondary 21,200 23,800 12 2,600
  Social work teachers, postsecondary 14,900 16,300 10 1,500
  Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary 122,500 137,200 12 14,700
  Communications teachers, postsecondary 34,100 37,500 10 3,400
  English language and literature teachers, postsecondary 84,600 92,900 10 8,300
  Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary 35,000 39,100 12 4,100
  History teachers, postsecondary 26,900 29,700 10 2,800
  Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary 31,800 35,700 12 3,900


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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