Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
lacs masthead
lacs masthead
Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Higher Education Administration

What is higher education administration?


“Higher education administration” is often used as an umbrella term encompassing all non-faculty jobs at a university. Higher education administration is essentially a nonacademic career within the academy, and can include positions in student affairs, institutional research, program coordination, alumni relations, and administrative positions at all levels of the college or university.

What administrative jobs would be open to me?


Other than academic deans and provosts, which require full professor status, administrative jobs are available to people from a wide variety of backgrounds and advanced degrees are valued, perhaps higher than in any other field. Degrees in higher education administration and related areas are available, and these qualifications might be preferred for some positions, but your knowledge of how a college campus works is an advantageous qualification in addition to your graduate training.

How has my experience in graduate school prepared me for this career path?


Sometimes graduate students find that they enjoy the atmosphere of a college campus and working with students, faculty, and staff, but would prefer a job in this setting that doesn’t require involve teaching or publishing. Higher education administrators need superb skills in organization, communication, problem-solving, and desire to help others. As a postacademic, your comfort in working with students and faculty could give you an edge over other staff members who perhaps lack the patience to deal with students’ concerns or are intimidated by talking to faculty. People persons, take note: “If you find yourself organizing conferences, joining student organizations, questioning policies and serving on ad hoc committees, or discussing institutional history with your department chair or dean, you already possess the type of personality well suited to an alternative administrative career in the academy."[1]

Pros


•    Compared to being a faculty member, some administrators have more power in the institution because their decisions affect other people’s careers and perhaps thousands of students.
•    Administrators must keep 9 to 5 hours but don’t have grading on the weekends.
•    Deadlines are tighter and there are lots of meetings.
•    In executive level positions, administrators can have a greater influence in setting policies or otherwise affecting the campus.[2]

Cons


However, there can be distinct drawbacks to holding a nonacademic position in administration. The additional power wielded by administrators means that they experience more pressure. In addition, Anne Mitchell Whisnant, writing under the pseudonym of Natalie Henderson, warns that though nonacademic jobs in universities may be easier to get than nonacademic jobs outside the academy since PhDs are valued more within academia, once you are a non-faculty staff member, certain skills that you honed while working on your PhD handicap you for administrative work. In her experience, “The message seems to be that it's fine to continue my scholarly engagement so long as I keep it to myself. Legitimate, substantive scholarly contributions to the intellectual content of our programs are to be issued only from the faculty."[3] Once you are a member of the staff, faculty may treat you differently than when you were a graduate student, and not entirely in positive ways.
 

Salaries and Outlook


The Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that the median pay for a postsecondary administrator was $83,710 in May 2010—more than professors but less than comparable administrators in the private sector. However, the tangible and intangible benefits of working for a college or university can make up for the lower pay.

Careers in Higher Education Administration

Institutional Research


As with other nonacademic research positions, you likely won’t be setting your own research agenda, though you might be able to identify some problems that need researching. You would probably be working closely with others to identify research problems and carry out the research from start to finish. An advantage of this more collaborative position is that unlike your dissertation or other large academic research project, your ego isn’t as woven into the work—it feels more like a job and less like the project you are staking your professional identity on. Researchers work for provosts’ and deans’ offices, centers for teaching effectiveness, development offices, and other divisions.

Admissions


The admissions office is familiar to anyone who has been admitted to college, and at very least, you’ll probably have imagined that there were people reading your application and making decisions about who to extend an offer of admission to. An admissions counselor is the entry-level position into admissions offices, where you could move up into a directorship or other administrative roles at the institution. Admissions officers might also be responsible for recruitment, and staff might need to travel to recruit students from certain geographic locations.

National Association for College Admission Counseling - they publish The Journal of College Admissions and maintain a job database

Academic Advising


Academic advisors work within colleges or departments to meet with students and ensure their progress in meeting the academic requirements of their program. This could be an entry-level position into other administrative work.

National Academic Advising Association - check out their magazine, Academic Advising Today, for free articles related to the issues that academic advisors encounter.
See also Penn State’s peer-reviewed ejournal, The Mentor.

Career Services


Career Services professionals work with students and recruiters to ensure that as many students and recent alumni find jobs as possible. For students, career services staff hold workshops, teach classes, and do a lot of one-on-one counseling or coaching to prepare them for the job market. Staff also organize career fairs, maintain contacts with recruiters and employers, and maintain job databases to help employers find suitable job candidates.

National Association of Colleges and Employers

Program Coordinator


These types of positions can run the gamut. Program coordinators might work with divisions in in athletics, study abroad, continuing education, diversity, community engagement, etc. Project management and communication skills are key to cooperating with all the interrelated staff and faculty member whose help you need to keep your program running smoothly.

Alumni Relations/Development


Alumni relations staff are responsible for keeping in touch with alumni to promote the legacy of their alma mater and raise funds to support the institution. Writing fundraising materials and maintaining records of alumni giving are two of the most important parts of the job, but it would also likely include some hobnobbing and planning networking events. If you are interested in this area, you might consider writing an article for your alma mater’s alumni magazine or getting some fundraising experience.

Council of Alumni Marketing and Membership Professionals
Council for Advancement and Support of Education

Action Steps

•    Volunteer for committee work to show that you can collaborate and communicate with others on non-scholarly matters
•    Show your project management abilities by meeting deadlines
•    Maintain good rapport with your colleagues—other graduate students, faculty, and staff
•    Find ways to serve in a leadership role or mentor younger colleagues 
•    Foster a record of positive engagement with your students
•    Seek out campus groups in which you could work side-by-side with undergraduates or in a leadership position
•    Consider taking an Education Administration (EDA) course at UT on educational research methods, campus cultures, community college administration, and other topics
•    Join the UT Non-Academic Alumni Network on LinkedIn to find current higher education administrators
•    Visit the LACS library in FAC 18 to read more

Print Resources


Echaore-McDavid, Susan. Career Opportunities in Education And Related Services. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2006. Print.
McClellan, George S., Jeremy Stringer, and Associates. The Handbook of Student Affairs Administration. 3rd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.
Princeton Review. What to Do with Your English or Communications Degree. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Review, 2007. Print.
Jenkins, Rob. “Getting Into Administration.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 21 Apr. 2005. Web.
Bradley, Gwendolyn. “The ‘Other’ Life on Campus, or How to Become an Academic Administrator.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 7 July 2000. Web.
Henderson, Natalie. “A ‘Nonacademic’ Career in Academe.” Chronicle of Higher Education. 20 June 2005. Web.
McClellan, George S., Jeremy Stringer, and Associates. The Handbook of Student Affairs Administration. 3rd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.

The Journal of Academic Administration in Higher Education
Journal of Higher Education available through Project Muse (free to UT subscribers)

Web Resources


Berens, Joanne, Arno Bosse, and Miranda Swanson. “Administrative Careers for Humanists.” #alt-academy: Alternative Academic Careers, May 6, 2011. http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/alt-ac/pieces/administrative-careers-humanists.
Whisnant, Anne Mitchell. “I Am Natalie Henderson.” #alt-academy: Alternative Academic Careers. 6 May 2011. Web. 26 June 2012. http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/alt-ac/pieces/i-am-natalie-henderson
Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education
Association of College Administration Professionals
College Student Educators International - includes job listings in its Career Central
Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education
www.higheredjobs.com/admin
Texas Tribune Government Employee Database - look up any public university employee’s salary 

Notes


1. Joanne Berens, Arno Bosse, and Miranda Swanson, “Administrative Careers for Humanists,” #alt-academy: Alternative Academic Careers, May 6, 2011.

2. Rob Jenkins, “Getting Into Administration,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 21, 2005.

3. Natalie Henderson, “A ‘Nonacademic’ Career in Academe,” Chronicle of Higher Education, June 20, 2005.

bottom border