College Instructor Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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Get the truth about a college instructor's salary, education requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming a college instructor.
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A College Instructor Career: Pros and Cons

As a college instructor, you could create and implement curricula to help students learn about your field of study. Listed below are some pros and cons to give you a better idea about this job field.

Pros of Being a College Instructor
Good pay (average salaries range from around $53,000 to $126,000, depending on the subject area)*
Positions as technical or trade instructors at community colleges are available to applicants with work experience and an undergraduate degree*
When they're not teaching a class, instructors generally set their own hours*
Advancement opportunities include tenured or administrative positions*

Cons of Being a College Instructor
The number of new job openings at public schools could be restricted by state and local budgets*
A Ph.D. is required to work as an instructor in most 4-year schools*
Many colleges are replacing tenured positions with part-time and adjunct instructors*
Juggling teaching and research responsibilities could be stressful*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Job Duties

College instructors can teach career and technical training courses or academic courses, such as math and English. They might work for 2-year community colleges and technical schools or 4-year colleges and universities.

Regardless of your academic setting, if you take a job as a college instructor, you'd be responsible for preparing all course materials, including lesson plans, activities and assignments. You'd also engage students in classroom discussions and evaluate their work. Other job duties could include keeping office hours so that students can see you outside of the classroom, whether to seek advice about their coursework or career goals.

If you work at a larger 4-year university, you can expect additional responsibilities. Instructors in these settings can spend a great deal of time drafting grant proposals, conducting research and writing papers for journals and other academic publications. Job responsibilities could also include participation in academic committees. You might even oversee undergraduate and graduate students who work for you as teaching assistants.

Job Outlook and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 236,000 new postsecondary teaching positions are expected to be created between 2012 and 2022. This is due to an increasing college enrollment, especially in for-profit schools. However, job growth at public institutions could be tempered by the budget shortfalls of state governments. The strongest job competition was expected for tenured positions, since many schools are electing to hire part-time and adjunct professors instead.

Your salary as a college instructor could vary depending on what courses you teach. For example, as of May 2014, the average annual salary for postsecondary vocational education teachers was around $53,000, while English language and literature postsecondary teachers earned just over $68,000. Postsecondary business and engineering teachers earned average wages of about $89,000 and $102,000 a year, respectively. The highest earners in this field were postsecondary law teachers. They earned an average of about $126,000 in the same year, according to the BLS.

Career Skills and Requirements

Education

If you want to teach technical or vocational courses at a 2-year school, you could qualify for a position if you have an undergraduate degree and work experience in your field. Holding professional certification could also suffice. These schools employ instructors who hold a master's degree as well.

To work as a college instructor at most 4-year colleges and universities, you'll more than likely need a Ph.D. in the field you wish to teach. However, it's also possible that a college might be interested in hiring you if you're a Ph.D. candidate or if you have a master's degree and are applying for a part-time position.

Useful Skills

To be a successful college instructor, you'll need to explain the material in ways that students can understand them. Whether you're enrolled in a degree program or already working in the field you would like to teach, look for opportunities to develop the following skills and abilities:

  • Communication skills to write and speak clearly
  • An ability to select and apply the most appropriate learning strategies
  • Strong listening skills
  • The ability to solve problems using inductive and deductive reasoning

Job Postings from Real Employers

Teaching experience was one of the most common requirements listed by employers. Other skills and educational qualifications are highlighted in these real job posts from April 2012:

  • A vocational school in Pennsylvania was seeking an adjunct instructor for its criminal justice program. Applicants needed a background in the law enforcement, corrections or firefighting fields in addition to teaching experience.
  • A community college in Texas was looking for a machining instructor with three years of experience and an associate's degree in manufacturing or a related field. Applicants with at least ten years of machine operator experience, five years of CNC programming experience and two years of teaching experience were preferred.
  • A for-profit career school in California was seeking an instructor who could lead an introductory computer course. Applicants needed to be familiar with Microsoft Office applications as well as routers, servers and hacking defenses. Candidates also needed relevant teaching and work experience.
  • A Montana public university was looking for a psychology instructor to teach courses in such areas as abnormal and social psychology. This position required at least a master's degree in psychology or a related field and teaching experience. Applicants with a Ph.D. were preferred.

Standing Out

While some 4-year colleges and universities will entertain the idea of hiring a candidate with a master's degree, recent job posts indicate that applicants with a Ph.D. are preferred. The same holds true for jobs at 2-year institutions, since the number of applicants often exceeds the number of openings in some fields. Holding a doctorate might give you an edge over those with only a master's degree when attempting to secure an instructor position, according to the BLS. Moreover, if you lack the teaching experience necessary for some positions, enrolling in a Ph.D. program can also allow you to serve as a teaching assistant.

Alternative Career Paths

Postsecondary Education Administrator

If you're interested in helping college students pursue their educational and career goals, but don't want to juggle the teaching and research responsibilities of a college instructor, consider working as an administrator in a student affairs, admissions or registrar's office. In some cases, a bachelor's degree can prepare you for an entry-level position in one of these settings. As of May 2011, the mean salary for postsecondary administrations was around $97,000, a figure that also included college deans and provosts. Additionally, a 19% growth in employment opportunities was projected for the field between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.

Training and Development Manager

If you like the idea of teaching and creating training programs, but don't want to work in a college classroom, a job as a training and development manager is another career path worth considering. While a master's degree could be required for some positions, a bachelor's degree will usually suffice. Even though job opportunities in this field were only expected to increase at an average rate of 15% between 2010 and 2020, the BLS reported that training and development managers earned an average annual salary of about $99,000 as of May 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Technology Leadership
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Organizational Leadership and Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD - Learning Analytics in Higher Education
      • Ed.D. - General Education
      • PhD in Education - Global Training and Development
      • Ed.D. - Higher Education Leadership
      • PhD in Education - Higher Education Leadership
      • PhD in Education - Curriculum and Teaching
    Master's
      • M.Ed. - Adult Learning and Workforce Education
      • M.Ed. - Global Training and Development
      • M.Ed. - Higher Education Leadership
      • M.Ed. - General Education
      • M.Ed. - Curriculum and Teaching
    Certificate
      • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education
      • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Education Specialist - E-Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Higher Education - Online College Teaching
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
      • Master: Higher Education - College Admin./Leadership
      • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
      • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
      • Master: Nursing/Nurse Educator
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Early Childhood Administration
      • Undergraduate in Early Childhood
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning
      • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Behavioral Health
    Master's
      • M.Ed. in Early Childhood
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
      • M.Ed. in Elementary Education
      • M.Ed. in Secondary Education
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Early Childhood
      • B.S. in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education
      • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
      • B.S. in Elementary Education with an Emphasis in Christian Education
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Concordia University Portland

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
      • M.S. - Career and Technical Education (CTE)
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Early Childhood Education
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      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: ESOL (K-Adult)
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: Methods & Curriculum
  • Campus Locations:
    8. CDI College

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Certificate in Early Childhood Education
      • Diploma in Early Childhood Education JEE.13 (Techniques D'ducation L'enfance - JEE.13)
  • Athens, GA

    University of Georgia

  • Louisville, KY

    University of Louisville

Featured Schools

The George Washington University

  • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Technology Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Organizational Leadership and Learning

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • EdD - Learning Analytics in Higher Education
  • M.Ed. - Adult Learning and Workforce Education
  • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Higher Education - Online College Teaching
  • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
  • BS in Early Childhood Administration
  • Undergraduate in Early Childhood

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Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning
  • M.Ed. in Early Childhood
  • BS in Early Childhood

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Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Concordia University Portland

  • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
  • M.S. - Career and Technical Education (CTE)
  • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Early Childhood Education

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CDI College

  • Certificate in Early Childhood Education
  • Diploma in Early Childhood Education JEE.13 (Techniques D'ducation L'enfance - JEE.13)

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