Postsecondary Teachers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level.

Work Environment: Most postsecondary teachers work in public and private colleges and universities, professional schools, and junior or community colleges. Outside of class time, their schedules are generally flexible, and they may spend that time in administrative duties, advising students, and conducting research.

How to Become One: Educational requirements vary by subject 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, and others may need work experience in their field of expertise.

Salary: The median annual wage for postsecondary teachers is $80,790.

Job Outlook: Overall employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 12 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of postsecondary teachers with similar occupations.

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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 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 are 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.

Postsecondary Teacher 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] [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 $80,790. 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 $40,960, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $180,360.

Median annual wages for postsecondary teachers are as follows:

Law teachers, postsecondary $116,430
Economics teachers, postsecondary $107,260
Engineering teachers, postsecondary $103,600
Health specialties teachers, postsecondary $99,090
Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary $94,520
Architecture teachers, postsecondary $90,880
Physics teachers, postsecondary $90,400
Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary $90,340
Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary $89,220
Business teachers, postsecondary $88,010
Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary $87,400
Political science teachers, postsecondary $85,760
Biological science teachers, postsecondary $85,600
Computer science teachers, postsecondary $85,540
Environmental science teachers, postsecondary $84,740
Geography teachers, postsecondary $82,330
Chemistry teachers, postsecondary $80,400
Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary $78,840
Psychology teachers, postsecondary $78,180
History teachers, postsecondary $76,890
Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary $76,160
Sociology teachers, postsecondary $75,610
Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary $75,470
Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary $73,650
Library science teachers, postsecondary $71,580
Social work teachers, postsecondary $71,570
Communications teachers, postsecondary $71,030
Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary $69,920
Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary $69,690
Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other $69,340
English language and literature teachers, postsecondary $69,000
Education teachers, postsecondary $65,440
Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary $63,560

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

Overall employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 12 percent over the next ten years, 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 of Postsecondary Teachers

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 Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30
Percent Numeric
Postsecondary teachers 1,276,900 1,433,600 12 156,700
  Business teachers, postsecondary 96,500 102,800 6 6,200
  Computer science teachers, postsecondary 37,800 40,400 7 2,600
  Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary 56,100 59,200 6 3,200
  Architecture teachers, postsecondary 8,500 9,200 8 700
  Engineering teachers, postsecondary 46,300 52,100 13 5,800
  Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary 9,900 10,400 5 500
  Biological science teachers, postsecondary 60,500 68,200 13 7,700
  Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary 1,700 1,800 6 100
  Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary 13,600 14,500 6 900
  Chemistry teachers, postsecondary 25,600 27,600 8 2,000
  Environmental science teachers, postsecondary 7,100 7,600 7 500
  Physics teachers, postsecondary 16,500 17,800 8 1,300
  Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary 6,700 7,200 8 500
  Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary 12,100 13,100 9 1,100
  Economics teachers, postsecondary 16,000 17,400 9 1,400
  Geography teachers, postsecondary 4,400 4,700 6 300
  Political science teachers, postsecondary 18,400 20,000 9 1,600
  Psychology teachers, postsecondary 44,100 48,600 10 4,500
  Sociology teachers, postsecondary 15,900 17,100 8 1,200
  Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other 19,500 20,300 4 800
  Health specialties teachers, postsecondary 242,700 301,600 24 58,900
  Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary 72,600 88,900 22 16,300
  Education teachers, postsecondary 70,000 75,800 8 5,800
  Library science teachers, postsecondary 5,000 5,300 6 300
  Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary 16,100 17,900 11 1,800
  Law teachers, postsecondary 18,900 21,000 11 2,000
  Social work teachers, postsecondary 16,600 18,100 9 1,500
  Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary 109,300 120,300 10 11,000
  Communications teachers, postsecondary 33,600 36,000 7 2,400
  English language and literature teachers, postsecondary 75,000 79,600 6 4,700
  Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary 27,100 29,700 9 2,600
  History teachers, postsecondary 24,400 26,300 8 1,900
  Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary 29,000 32,200 11 3,200
  Family and consumer sciences teachers, postsecondary 2,600 2,800 6 200
  Recreation and fitness studies teachers, postsecondary 17,000 18,200 7 1,200


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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