Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level.
What they do
Postsecondary teachers may conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.
They 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The median annual wage for postsecondary teachers was $79,540 in May 2019. 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 $40,480, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $174,960.
Overall employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2019 to 2029, 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.
Similar Job Titles
Adjunct Instructor, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Education Instructor, Education Professor, Faculty Member, Instructor, Lecturer, Professor, Special Education Professor
Library Science Teacher, Communications Teacher, English Language and Literature Teacher, Home Economics Teacher, Recreation and Fitness Studies Teacher – all Postsecondary
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
- American Counseling Association
- American Educational Research Association
- American Psychological Association
- Association of Teacher Educators
- Council for Exceptional Children
- International Literacy Association
- Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education
- National Association for the Education of Young Children
Magazines and Publications
- eLearn Magazine
- American Educator
- AFT Health Care
- AFT School House Voices
- PSRP Reporter
- Voices on Campus
It’s said that the best professors awaken greatness in students, and inspire them to reach their potential both in their careers and in life. Postsecondary teachers, often called professors or faculty, teach students at the college level, in a wide variety of subjects, and often contribute to the development of knowledge in their fields. Professors need high-level critical thinking skills, excellent speaking and writing skills, creativity, and the ability to connect with their students. They teach courses in subjects such as history, science, business, music, and many other fields. Professors at small colleges or community colleges often spend most of their time teaching classes and working with students. When employed by large colleges or universities, faculty also conduct research or experiments publish their findings, apply for research grants, and supervise graduate teaching assistants who help teach classes Part-time—or adjunct—professors often work in their field, such as a lawyer who teaches an evening law class. Some faculty teach courses online, using the Internet to present lessons, assign work to students, and participate in discussions. Faculty also keep office hours for student meetings, and may serve on committees for their institutions. Most professors teach during the day, but some teach night and weekend classes. Online teaching may offer a flexible schedule. Typically, postsecondary teachers must have a Ph.D. in a related field, though two-year colleges may require only a master's degree. In some fields, such as health specialties, art, or education, hands-on experience in the industry is an important qualification.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org