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Overview of Education & Training

Educational Attainment Breakdown for Area, Ethnic, and Cultural Studies Teachers, Postsecondary

Unfortunately, no educational attainment
data exists for this profession.

Most Significant Source of Postsecondary Education or Training
Data unavailable
Source: U.S. Department of Labor

In-Depth Look at Education & Training

The education and training required of postsecondary teachers varies widely, depending on the subject taught and the educational institution employing them. Educational requirements for teachers generally are highest at research universities, where a Ph.D. is the most commonly held degree.

Education and training. Four-year colleges and universities usually require candidates for full-time, tenure-track positions to hold a doctoral degree. However, they may hire master's degree holders or doctoral candidates for certain disciplines, such as the arts, or for part-time and temporary jobs.

Doctoral programs take an average of 6 years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's degree, including time spent completing a master's degree and a dissertation. Some programs, such as those in the humanities, may take longer to complete; others, such as those in engineering, usually are shorter. Candidates specialize in a subfield of a discipline—for example, organic chemistry, counseling psychology, or European history—and also take courses covering the entire discipline. Programs typically include 20 or more increasingly specialized courses and seminars, plus comprehensive examinations in all major areas of the field. Candidates also must complete a dissertation—a paper on original research in the candidate's major field of study. The dissertation sets forth an original hypothesis or proposes a model and tests it. Students in the natural sciences and engineering often do theoretical or laboratory work; in the humanities, they study original documents and other published material. The dissertation is done under the guidance of one or more faculty advisors and usually takes 1 or 2 years of full-time work.

In 2-year colleges, master's degree holders fill most full-time teaching positions. However, in certain fields where there may be more applicants than available jobs, institutions can be more selective in their hiring practices. In these fields, master's degree holders may be passed over in favor of candidates holding Ph.D.s. Many 2-year institutions increasingly prefer job applicants to have some teaching experience or experience with distance learning. Preference also may be given to those holding dual master's degrees, especially at smaller institutions, because those with dual degrees can teach more subjects.

Other qualifications. Postsecondary teachers should communicate and relate well with students, enjoy working with them, and be able to motivate them. They should have inquiring and analytical minds and a strong desire to pursue and disseminate knowledge. In addition, they must be self-motivated and able to work in an environment in which they receive little direct supervision.

Obtaining a position as a graduate teaching assistant is a good way to gain college teaching experience. To qualify, candidates must be enrolled in a graduate school program. In addition, some colleges and universities require teaching assistants to attend classes or take some training prior to being given responsibility for a course.

Although graduate teaching assistants usually work at the institution and in the department where they are earning their degree, teaching or internship positions for graduate students at institutions that do not grant a graduate degree have become more common in recent years. For example, a program called Preparing Future Faculty, administered by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools, has led to the creation of many programs that are now independent. These programs offer graduate students at research universities the opportunity to work as teaching assistants at other types of institutions, such as liberal arts or community colleges. Working with a mentor, graduate students teach classes and learn how to improve their teaching techniques. They may attend faculty and committee meetings, develop a curriculum, and learn how to balance the teaching, research, and administrative roles of faculty. These programs provide valuable learning opportunities for graduate students interested in teaching at the postsecondary level and also help to make these students aware of the differences among the various types of institutions at which they may someday work.

Some degree holders, particularly those with degrees in the natural sciences, do postdoctoral research before taking a faculty position. Some Ph.D.s are able to extend postdoctoral appointments or take new ones if they are unable to find a faculty job. Most of these appointments offer a nominal salary.

Advancement. For faculty a major goal in the traditional academic career is attaining tenure, which can take approximately 7 years, with faculty moving up the ranks in tenure-track positions as they meet specific criteria. The ranks are instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, and professor. Colleges and universities usually hire new tenure-track faculty as instructors or assistant professors under term contracts. At the end of the period, their record of teaching, research, and overall contribution to the institution is reviewed, and tenure may be granted if the review is favorable. Those denied tenure usually must leave the institution. Tenured professors cannot be fired without just cause and due process. Tenure protects the faculty member's academic freedom—the ability to advocate controversial or unpopular ideas through teaching and conducting research without fear of being fired. Tenure also gives both faculty and institutions the stability needed for effective research and teaching, and it provides financial security for faculty. Some institutions have adopted post-tenure review policies to encourage ongoing evaluation of tenured faculty.

The number of tenure-track positions is declining as institutions seek flexibility in dealing with financial matters and changing student interests. Institutions are relying more heavily on limited-term contracts and part-time, or adjunct, faculty, thus shrinking the total pool of tenured faculty. Limited-term contracts, typically for 2 to 5 years, may be terminated or extended when they expire and generally do not lead to the granting of tenure. In addition, some institutions have limited the percentage of the faculty that can be tenured.

For tenured postsecondary teachers, further advancement involves a move into an administrative or managerial position, such as departmental chairperson, dean, or president. At 4-year institutions, such advancement requires a doctoral degree. At 2-year colleges, a doctorate is helpful but not usually required for advancement, except for advancement to some top administrative positions, which generally required a doctorate. (Deans and departmental chairpersons are covered in the Handbook statement on education administrators, while college presidents are included in the Handbook statement on top executives.)

Source: U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook

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