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What Postsecondary Teachers Do About this section

Postsecondary teachers
Professors may teach a variety of subjects, such as history, science, or business.

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

Duties

Postsecondary teachers typically do the following:

  • 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
  • Teach courses in their subject area
  • Assess students’ progress by grading assignments, papers, exams, and other work
  • Advise students about which courses to take and how to achieve their goals
  • Work with colleagues to develop or modify the curriculum for a degree or certificate program involving in-person, online, or hybrid delivery of course material
  • Stay informed about changes and innovations in their field
  • Serve on academic or administrative committees, as needed

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 by degree field, such as history, science, or business. A professor may teach one or more courses within that department. For example, a mathematics professor may teach calculus, statistics, and a graduate seminar on a topic related to polynomials.

Postsecondary teachers’ duties vary, often based on the size of their employing institution. In large colleges or universities, they may teach courses, conduct research or experiments, publish original research, apply for grants to fund their research, or supervise graduate teaching assistants. In small colleges and universities or in community colleges, they may spend most of their time teaching courses and working with students.

Full-time professors, particularly those who have tenure (that is, they cannot be fired without just cause), often are expected to devote a great deal of time on original research. Tenured professors must document their analyses or critical reviews and publish their research findings. They also may be expected to serve on college and university committees.

Part-time professors, often known as adjunct professors, usually 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 a few students, or laboratories in which students practice the subject matter. Some teach online, either exclusively or in addition to providing live instruction.

Professors’ tasks also may include collaborating with their colleagues and attending conferences to keep up with developments in their field.

Information about postsecondary teachers who provide vocational training in subjects such as repair, transportation, and cosmetology is available in the profile on career and technical education teachers.

Work Environment About this section

Postsecondary teachers
Most classes are held during the day, but some are held on nights and weekends.

Postsecondary teachers held about 1.3 million jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up postsecondary teachers was distributed as follows:

Health specialties teachers, postsecondary 242,700
Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary 109,300
Business teachers, postsecondary 96,500
English language and literature teachers, postsecondary 75,000
Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary 72,600
Education teachers, postsecondary 70,000
Biological science teachers, postsecondary 60,500
Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary 56,100
Engineering teachers, postsecondary 46,300
Psychology teachers, postsecondary 44,100
Computer science teachers, postsecondary 37,800
Communications teachers, postsecondary 33,600
Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary 29,000
Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary 27,100
Chemistry teachers, postsecondary 25,600
History teachers, postsecondary 24,400
Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other 19,500
Law teachers, postsecondary 18,900
Political science teachers, postsecondary 18,400
Recreation and fitness studies teachers, postsecondary 17,000
Social work teachers, postsecondary 16,600
Physics teachers, postsecondary 16,500
Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary 16,100
Economics teachers, postsecondary 16,000
Sociology teachers, postsecondary 15,900
Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary 13,600
Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary 12,100
Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary 9,900
Architecture teachers, postsecondary 8,500
Environmental science teachers, postsecondary 7,100
Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary 6,700
Library science teachers, postsecondary 5,000
Geography teachers, postsecondary 4,400
Family and consumer sciences teachers, postsecondary 2,600
Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary 1,700

The largest employers of postsecondary teachers were as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; private 39%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 38
Junior colleges; local 11
Junior colleges; state 6

Postsecondary teachers often find it rewarding to share their expertise with students and colleagues. However, it may be stressful, especially for beginning teachers seeking advancement, to balance teaching duties with an emphasis on research and publication. At the community college level, professors are more likely to focus on teaching students.

Work Schedules

Most postsecondary teachers work full time, although part-time work is common. Postsecondary teachers who work part time may offer instruction at several colleges or universities. Some 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 an evening course at a law school.

College and university courses are generally during the day, although some are offered in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate students who have jobs or other obligations.

Academic calendars typically include breaks, such as between terms. The availability and type of course offerings during the summer vary by institution. Although some postsecondary teachers provide instruction in summer courses, others use the time to conduct research or engage in professional development.

Postsecondary teachers’ schedules generally are flexible. Full-time teachers typically need to be on campus to teach classes and have office hours but otherwise are free to set their own schedules.

How to Become a Postsecondary Teacher About this section

Postsecondary teachers
Institutions may prefer to hire those with teaching or other work experience.

Educational requirements vary with the subject taught and the type of educational institution. Typically, postsecondary teachers must have a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree in their field. 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

Postsecondary teachers who work for 4-year colleges and universities typically need a Ph.D. or other doctorate in their field of degree. For some specialties or for part-time positions, schools may hire those with a master’s degree or who are doctoral degree candidates.

Doctoral programs usually take several years to complete, and students typically need a bachelor’s or master’s degree to enroll. Most Ph.D. programs require students to write a doctoral dissertation, a paper presenting original research in their field of study, which they then defend in questioning from experts. Candidates usually specialize in a subfield, such as organic chemistry or European history.

Community colleges may hire those with a master’s degree. However, some institutions prefer that applicants have a Ph.D.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Institutions may prefer to hire those with teaching or other work experience.

In some fields, such as health specialties, art, law, and education, hands-on work experience is especially important. Postsecondary teachers in these fields often gain experience by working in an occupation related to their field of study.

In other fields, such as biological science, physics, and chemistry, some postsecondary teachers have postdoctoral research experience. Sometimes called a “post-doc,” this experience takes the form of a job that usually involves 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 at the institution in which they are enrolled.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Postsecondary teachers who prepare students for an occupation that requires a license, certification, or registration, may need to have—or 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

Postsecondary teachers with a doctoral degree often seek tenure—a guarantee that a professor cannot be fired without just cause. Attaining tenure may take up to 7 years of progressing through the positions by rank: assistant professor, associate professor, and professor. The decision to grant tenure is based on a candidate’s research, contribution to the institution, and teaching.

Some professors advance to high-level 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

Critical-thinking skills. To conduct original research and design experiments, postsecondary teachers need to analyze information logically.

Interpersonal skills. Postsecondary teachers need to work well with others for tasks such as instructing students and serving on committees.

Resourcefulness. Postsecondary teachers must 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 be able to use technology for lessons or assignments.

Speaking skills. Postsecondary teachers need good communication skills to present lectures and provide feedback to students.

Writing skills. Postsecondary teachers need strong writing ability to publish original research and analysis.

Pay About this section

Postsecondary Teachers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Postsecondary teachers

$79,640

Educational instruction and library occupations

$57,220

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for postsecondary teachers was $79,640 in May 2021. 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 $46,690, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $172,130.

Median annual wages for postsecondary teachers in May 2021 were as follows:

Law teachers, postsecondary $123,470
Engineering teachers, postsecondary 104,940
Economics teachers, postsecondary 104,940
Health specialties teachers, postsecondary 102,720
Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary 98,070
Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary 97,340
Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary 95,910
Architecture teachers, postsecondary 95,160
Business teachers, postsecondary 94,360
Physics teachers, postsecondary 93,070
Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary 82,330
Political science teachers, postsecondary 81,980
Environmental science teachers, postsecondary 81,980
Geography teachers, postsecondary 81,440
Biological science teachers, postsecondary 81,440
Family and consumer sciences teachers, postsecondary 79,630
Chemistry teachers, postsecondary 79,410
Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary 78,910
History teachers, postsecondary 78,130
Sociology teachers, postsecondary 77,980
Computer science teachers, postsecondary 77,910
Psychology teachers, postsecondary 77,860
Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary 77,610
Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary 77,580
Communications teachers, postsecondary 77,560
Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other 77,500
Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary 77,440
Library science teachers, postsecondary 77,100
Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary 77,030
Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary 75,940
English language and literature teachers, postsecondary 75,930
Recreation and fitness studies teachers, postsecondary 72,440
Social work teachers, postsecondary 71,010
Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary 64,600
Education teachers, postsecondary 63,910

In May 2021, the median annual wages for postsecondary teachers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state $81,250
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; private 79,820
Junior colleges; local 79,810
Junior colleges; state 63,590

Wages 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.

Most postsecondary teachers work full time, although part-time work is common. Postsecondary teachers who work part time may offer instruction at several colleges or universities. Some 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 an evening course at a law school.

College and university courses are generally during the day, although some are offered in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate students who have jobs or other obligations.

Academic calendars typically include breaks, such as between terms. The availability and type of course offerings during the summer vary by institution. Although some postsecondary teachers provide instruction in summer courses, others use the time to conduct research or engage in professional development.

Postsecondary teachers’ schedules generally are flexible. Full-time teachers typically need to be on campus to teach classes and have office hours but otherwise are free to set their own schedules.

Job Outlook About this section

Postsecondary Teachers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Postsecondary teachers

12%

Educational instruction and library occupations

10%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Overall employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 139,600 openings for postsecondary teachers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Projected employment of postsecondary teachers varies by occupation. Both part-time and full-time postsecondary teachers are included in these projections.

The number of people attending postsecondary institutions is expected to grow over the projections decade. Students will continue to seek higher education to gain the knowledge 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.

As an aging population increasingly demands healthcare services, additional postsecondary teachers are expected to be needed to help educate the workers who provide these services.

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.

Employment projections data for postsecondary teachers, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Postsecondary teachers

1,276,900 1,433,600 12 156,700

Business teachers, postsecondary

25-1011 96,500 102,800 6 6,200 Get data

Computer science teachers, postsecondary

25-1021 37,800 40,400 7 2,600 Get data

Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary

25-1022 56,100 59,200 6 3,200 Get data

Architecture teachers, postsecondary

25-1031 8,500 9,200 8 700 Get data

Engineering teachers, postsecondary

25-1032 46,300 52,100 13 5,800 Get data

Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary

25-1041 9,900 10,400 5 500 Get data

Biological science teachers, postsecondary

25-1042 60,500 68,200 13 7,700 Get data

Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary

25-1043 1,700 1,800 6 100 Get data

Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary

25-1051 13,600 14,500 6 900 Get data

Chemistry teachers, postsecondary

25-1052 25,600 27,600 8 2,000 Get data

Environmental science teachers, postsecondary

25-1053 7,100 7,600 7 500 Get data

Physics teachers, postsecondary

25-1054 16,500 17,800 8 1,300 Get data

Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary

25-1061 6,700 7,200 8 500 Get data

Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary

25-1062 12,100 13,100 9 1,100 Get data

Economics teachers, postsecondary

25-1063 16,000 17,400 9 1,400 Get data

Geography teachers, postsecondary

25-1064 4,400 4,700 6 300 Get data

Political science teachers, postsecondary

25-1065 18,400 20,000 9 1,600 Get data

Psychology teachers, postsecondary

25-1066 44,100 48,600 10 4,500 Get data

Sociology teachers, postsecondary

25-1067 15,900 17,100 8 1,200 Get data

Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other

25-1069 19,500 20,300 4 800 Get data

Health specialties teachers, postsecondary

25-1071 242,700 301,600 24 58,900 Get data

Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary

25-1072 72,600 88,900 22 16,300 Get data

Education teachers, postsecondary

25-1081 70,000 75,800 8 5,800 Get data

Library science teachers, postsecondary

25-1082 5,000 5,300 6 300 Get data

Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary

25-1111 16,100 17,900 11 1,800 Get data

Law teachers, postsecondary

25-1112 18,900 21,000 11 2,000 Get data

Social work teachers, postsecondary

25-1113 16,600 18,100 9 1,500 Get data

Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary

25-1121 109,300 120,300 10 11,000 Get data

Communications teachers, postsecondary

25-1122 33,600 36,000 7 2,400 Get data

English language and literature teachers, postsecondary

25-1123 75,000 79,600 6 4,700 Get data

Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary

25-1124 27,100 29,700 9 2,600 Get data

History teachers, postsecondary

25-1125 24,400 26,300 8 1,900 Get data

Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary

25-1126 29,000 32,200 11 3,200 Get data

Family and consumer sciences teachers, postsecondary

25-1192 2,600 2,800 6 200 Get data

Recreation and fitness studies teachers, postsecondary

25-1193 17,000 18,200 7 1,200 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about postsecondary teachers, visit

American Association of University Professors

Council of Graduate Schools

O*NET

Agricultural Sciences Teachers, Postsecondary

Anthropology and Archeology Teachers, Postsecondary

Architecture Teachers, Postsecondary

Area, Ethnic, and Cultural Studies Teachers, Postsecondary

Art, Drama, and Music Teachers, Postsecondary

Atmospheric, Earth, Marine, and Space Sciences Teachers, Postsecondary

Biological Science Teachers, Postsecondary

Business Teachers, Postsecondary

Chemistry Teachers, Postsecondary

Communications Teachers, Postsecondary

Computer Science Teachers, Postsecondary

Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary

Economics Teachers, Postsecondary

Education Teachers, Postsecondary

Engineering Teachers, Postsecondary

English Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary

Environmental Science Teachers, Postsecondary

Family and Consumer Sciences Teachers, Postsecondary

Foreign Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary

Forestry and Conservation Science Teachers, Postsecondary

Geography Teachers, Postsecondary

Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary

History Teachers, Postsecondary

Law Teachers, Postsecondary

Library Science Teachers, Postsecondary

Mathematical Science Teachers, Postsecondary

Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary

Philosophy and Religion Teachers, Postsecondary

Physics Teachers, Postsecondary

Political Science Teachers, Postsecondary

Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary

Recreation and Fitness Studies Teachers, Postsecondary

Social Sciences Teachers, Postsecondary, All Other

Social Work Teachers, Postsecondary

Sociology Teachers, Postsecondary

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