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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] 

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.


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

Web Resources

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 
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