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Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.
Postsecondary teachers typically do the following:
Postsecondary teachers, often referred to as professors or faculty, specialize in a variety of subjects and fields. Some teach academic subjects, such as English or philosophy. Others focus on career-related subjects, such as law, nursing, or culinary arts.
At colleges and universities, professors are organized into departments that specialize in a subject, 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, 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 need to keep up with developments in their field by reading scholarly articles, talking with colleagues, and participating in professional conferences. A tenured professor must do original research, such as experiments, document analysis, or critical reviews, and publish their findings.
Some postsecondary teachers work for online universities or teach online classes. They use websites to present lessons and information, to assign and accept students’ work, and to participate in course discussions. Online professors communicate with students by email and by phone and might never meet their students in person.
Postsecondary teachers held about 1.3 million jobs in 2014.
In 2014, about 76 percent of postsecondary teachers worked for colleges, universities, and professional schools and about 20 percent worked for junior colleges. Much smaller percentages of postsecondary teachers worked in industries such as career and technical schools, business schools and computer and management training facilities, and hospitals.
Many postsecondary teachers find their jobs rewarding because they are surrounded by others who enjoy their subject. The opportunity to share their expertise with others also 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 do not and use that time to conduct research, involve themselves in professional development, or to travel.
Many postsecondary teachers work part time. They may work part time at several colleges or universities.
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.
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Educational requirements vary with the subject taught and the type of educational institution. Most commonly, postsecondary teachers must have a Ph.D. However, a master's degree may be enough for some postsecondary teachers at community colleges. In career and technical schools, work experience may be important for getting a postsecondary teaching job.
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 after the completion of a bachelor’s degree program. They spend time completing a master’s degree and then 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, in some fields, there are 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.
Postsecondary teachers who teach career and technical education courses, such as culinary arts or cosmetology, may not be required to have graduate-level education. At a minimum they must hold the degree of the program in which they are teaching. For example, the teacher must hold an associate’s degree if they teach a program that is at the associate’s degree level. In addition, work experience or certification may be just as important as education for getting a postsecondary teaching job at a career or technical school.
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, 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.
Some postsecondary teachers, especially adjunct professors, have another job in addition to teaching.
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.
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 faculty.
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.
Critical-thinking skills. To challenge established theories and beliefs, conduct original research, and design experiments, postsecondary teachers need good critical-thinking skills.
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 communication skills to give lectures.
Writing skills. Most postsecondary teachers need to be skilled writers to publish original research and analysis.
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The median annual wage for postsecondary teachers was $72,470 in May 2015. 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 $37,060, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $154,190.
Median annual wages for postsecondary teachers in May 2015 were as follows:
|Law teachers, postsecondary||$105,250|
|Engineering teachers, postsecondary||95,060|
|Economics teachers, postsecondary||94,000|
|Health specialties teachers, postsecondary||90,840|
|Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary||90,780|
|Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary||88,270|
|Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary||83,150|
|Physics teachers, postsecondary||82,840|
|Environmental science teachers, postsecondary||78,770|
|Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary||77,650|
|Political science teachers, postsecondary||76,370|
|Geography teachers, postsecondary||75,400|
|Business teachers, postsecondary||75,370|
|Biological science teachers, postsecondary||75,320|
|Chemistry teachers, postsecondary||75,060|
|Computer science teachers, postsecondary||74,840|
|Architecture teachers, postsecondary||73,920|
|Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary||72,300|
|Psychology teachers, postsecondary||70,260|
|History teachers, postsecondary||69,400|
|Sociology teachers, postsecondary||69,230|
|Library science teachers, postsecondary||67,660|
|Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other||67,490|
|Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary||67,480|
|Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary||67,170|
|Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary||66,380|
|Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary||65,340|
|Communications teachers, postsecondary||63,410|
|Social work teachers, postsecondary||63,390|
|English language and literature teachers, postsecondary||61,990|
|Education teachers, postsecondary||61,560|
|Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary||61,380|
|Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary||58,770|
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.
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.
Employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Both part-time and full-time postsecondary teachers are included in this projection.
Growth is expected as enrollments at postsecondary institutions continue to rise, although it will be at a slower rate than it has been in the past.
The number of people attending postsecondary institutions is expected to grow from 2014 to 2024. 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.
However, despite expected increases in enrollment, employment growth in public colleges and universities will depend on state and local government budgets. When budgets for higher education are reduced, employment growth may be limited.
Enrollment is expected to decrease in online colleges and universities. As a result, there will be less demand for postsecondary teachers in these types of schools.
Overall employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to increase, but it will vary by field. For example, nursing and health specialties teachers are projected to grow much faster than the average. As an aging population increasingly demands healthcare services, many additional postsecondary teachers are expected to be needed to help educate the workers who will provide these services.
In all fields, there is expected to be a limited number of full-time non-tenure and full-time tenure positions. Many colleges and universities are hiring more part-time positions.
There are expected to be more job opportunities for part-time postsecondary teachers since many institutions are hiring more part-time than full-time positions.
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.
Community colleges or career and technical schools may hire those with a master’s degree. However, there are more applicants than available positions in some fields. 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.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2014||Projected Employment, 2024||Change, 2014-24|
|Business teachers, postsecondary||106,800||116,200||9||9,400|
|Computer science teachers, postsecondary||43,400||47,200||9||3,800|
|Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary||63,500||73,900||16||10,400|
|Architecture teachers, postsecondary||9,100||9,900||9||800|
|Engineering teachers, postsecondary||46,000||52,000||13||6,000|
|Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary||12,100||12,800||6||700|
|Biological science teachers, postsecondary||64,300||74,800||16||10,400|
|Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary||2,300||2,400||7||200|
|Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary||13,200||14,300||9||1,100|
|Chemistry teachers, postsecondary||26,600||30,700||15||4,100|
|Environmental science teachers, postsecondary||6,700||7,300||9||600|
|Physics teachers, postsecondary||17,700||20,400||15||2,700|
|Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary||7,500||8,200||9||700|
|Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary||11,600||13,300||15||1,700|
|Economics teachers, postsecondary||17,300||18,900||10||1,700|
|Geography teachers, postsecondary||5,400||5,900||8||400|
|Political science teachers, postsecondary||21,600||23,700||10||2,100|
|Psychology teachers, postsecondary||47,300||54,700||16||7,500|
|Sociology teachers, postsecondary||20,700||23,900||15||3,200|
|Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other||12,900||15,100||17||2,200|
|Health specialties teachers, postsecondary||210,400||250,400||19||40,000|
|Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary||68,600||81,800||19||13,200|
|Education teachers, postsecondary||75,700||82,500||9||6,900|
|Library science teachers, postsecondary||5,600||6,000||8||400|
|Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary||17,400||21,100||21||3,700|
|Law teachers, postsecondary||21,100||25,700||22||4,600|
|Social work teachers, postsecondary||13,700||15,600||14||1,900|
|Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary||120,700||133,700||11||13,000|
|Communications teachers, postsecondary||36,000||39,500||10||3,500|
|English language and literature teachers, postsecondary||90,800||100,200||10||9,400|
|Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary||37,200||41,300||11||4,100|
|History teachers, postsecondary||29,200||32,100||10||2,900|
|Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary||30,700||34,200||12||3,600|