From time to time we receive letters with comments or asking for advice. It is often appropriate to answer them here. Below is one we received and our comments:
I am a Ph.D. student in the Higher Education Administration program at The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. I am not currently employed in the Higher Education field. However, I am seeking strategies to make a career change into the field as soon as possible. I am interested in career change advice and information as well as general employment information concerning the Higher Education field. I am also interested in Higher Education Research.
This letter would have been more easily answered if we had known the student’s current profession or work experience. Trending in higher education is towards people who have practical work experience in the subject matter they will be teaching. Schools like, the University of Phoenix, will not hire instructors who are not currently working in the field they will be teaching. So, it is not always a good idea to quit your day job, depending on where you want to teach and the subject area you want to teach.
It is a difficult time to be transitioning into higher education, especially if you have a PhD. Many colleges, like other businesses, are cutting cost. One of the ways they are doing it is by hiring instructors with only master’s degrees, because PhDs have to be paid at a much higher rate. The world of academia generally pays on an education and experience scale in a much stricter way than other industries, especially if it is a state run school.
Lots of instructors get their starts at the community college level or the local business schools. It is easier to get entry level positions, because they do not have the same large scale infrastructure as the larger universities. You can often walk right into the office of the president of the college at a business school, which is not available at the large university level.
It is also important to remember at your larger universities different colleges are broken into different sections, like the College of Business, College of Nursing etc. So, when you are applying for jobs be sure that you are applying to the right section of the university.
As with all jobs, it is easier to get your foot in the door if you know someone. Start networking now with your teachers, administrators, other students, and faculty organizations. We cannot stress the importance of networking enough. You might also join a toast master group where you are volunteering to speak to groups of people to show your skills.
If you are thinking of going directly into administration; think again. The best administrators come up through the ranks as teachers. You understand the dynamics of different kinds of students and you learn the frustrations of teachers. You will also be respected more by the teachers who work under you by demonstrating a work history that reflects an understanding of their issues. The glitch, some really good teachers never make it to the administration level, because it is hard to be a student/teacher advocate and an administrator at the same time. This is further complicated if the organization where you work has a union. You may be a part of the union as a teacher, but you are on the other side of the table as an administrator.
Whether you choose a teaching position or an administration position it is important to be current on trends in education and your field of expertise. You should be the expert in the field. Writing academic papers that you submit to print media and internet sources will help you position yourself as an expert in the field. There are lots of ways to find places to submit papers from entering contests to purchasing “The Writer’s Market”. Many instructors will establish networks with people working in the media and are often asked to do guest spots on radio and television.
You are probably not going to be “famous” working in education, but you will be important to your students. You are probably not going to get “rich” working in education, but your life will be richer for the lives you touch and the people you meet. Think about exponentially how many lives you touch teaching in higher education (30 students X 4 classes= 120 per semester/quarter if you split the difference on the math and give or take for a few students you average around 365 students a year.) That is like impacting the lives of one person per day for the number of years you teach. If you consider those people take the lessons they learn from you and touch other lives that is pretty powerful stuff. If you keep it in that perspective it does not really matter whether you work at a large university or a small college. You will be right where you are supposed to be to change the world one person at a time.