What Postsecondary Teachers Do
Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level.
Most postsecondary teachers work in public and private colleges and universities, professional schools, and junior or community colleges. Outside of class time, their schedules are generally flexible, and they may spend that time in administrative duties, advising students, and conducting research.
How to Become a Postsecondary Teacher
Educational requirements vary by subject and the type of educational institution. Typically, postsecondary teachers must have a Ph.D. However, a master’s degree may be enough for some postsecondary teachers at community colleges, and others may need work experience in their field of expertise.
The median annual wage for postsecondary teachers was $79,540 in May 2019.
Overall employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Projected employment growth varies by academic field.
Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They may also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.
Postsecondary teachers typically do the following:
- Teach courses in their subject area
- Work with students who are taking classes to improve their knowledge or career skills
- Develop an instructional plan (known as a course outline or syllabus) for the course(s) they teach and ensure that it meets college and department standards
- Plan lessons and assignments
- Work with colleagues to develop or modify the curriculum for a degree or certificate program involving a series of courses
- Assess students’ progress by grading assignments, papers, exams, and other work
- Advise students about which classes to take and how to achieve their goals
- Stay informed about changes and innovations in their field
Postsecondary teachers, often referred to as professors or faculty, specialize in a variety of subjects and fields. At colleges and universities, professors are organized into departments that specialize in a degree field, such as history, science, business, or music. A professor may teach one or more courses within that department. For example, a mathematics professor may teach calculus, statistics, and a graduate seminar in a very specific area of mathematics.
Postsecondary teachers’ duties vary with their positions in a university or college. In large colleges or universities, they may spend their time teaching, conducting research or experiments, publishing original research, applying for grants to fund their research, or supervising graduate teaching assistants who are teaching classes.
Postsecondary teachers who work in small colleges and universities or in community colleges often spend more time teaching classes and working with students. They may spend some time conducting research, but they do not have as much time to devote to it.
Full-time professors, particularly those who have tenure (a professor who cannot be fired without just cause), often are expected to spend more time on their research. They also may be expected to serve on more college and university committees.
Part-time professors, often known as adjunct professors, spend most of their time teaching students.
Professors may teach large classes of several hundred students (often with the help of graduate teaching assistants), smaller classes of about 40 to 50 students, seminars with just a few students, or laboratories where students practice the subject matter. They work with an increasingly varied student population as more part-time, older, and culturally diverse students are going to postsecondary schools.
Professors read scholarly articles, talk with colleagues, and participate in professional conferences to keep up with developments in their field. A tenured professor must do original research, document their analyses or critical reviews, and publish their findings.
Some postsecondary teachers work for online universities or teach online classes. They use the Internet to present lessons and information, to assign and accept students’ work, and to participate in course discussions. Online professors use email, phone, and video chat apps to communicate with students, and might never meet their students in person.
Postsecondary teachers held about 1.3 million jobs in 2019. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up postsecondary teachers was distributed as follows:
|Health specialties teachers, postsecondary||254,000|
|Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary||116,300|
|Business teachers, postsecondary||105,100|
|English language and literature teachers, postsecondary||81,300|
|Education teachers, postsecondary||77,300|
|Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary||72,900|
|Biological science teachers, postsecondary||64,700|
|Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary||60,100|
|Psychology teachers, postsecondary||46,800|
|Engineering teachers, postsecondary||44,600|
|Computer science teachers, postsecondary||38,500|
|Communications teachers, postsecondary||35,600|
|Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary||30,900|
|Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary||30,600|
|Chemistry teachers, postsecondary||26,400|
|History teachers, postsecondary||26,000|
|Law teachers, postsecondary||21,300|
|Political science teachers, postsecondary||19,800|
|Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other||19,300|
|Social work teachers, postsecondary||17,300|
|Physics teachers, postsecondary||17,100|
|Sociology teachers, postsecondary||17,000|
|Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary||16,800|
|Economics teachers, postsecondary||16,800|
|Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary||13,400|
|Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary||13,100|
|Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary||11,400|
|Architecture teachers, postsecondary||8,500|
|Environmental science teachers, postsecondary||7,600|
|Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary||7,200|
|Library science teachers, postsecondary||5,400|
|Geography teachers, postsecondary||4,800|
|Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary||2,100|
The largest employers of postsecondary teachers were as follows:
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; private||40%|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state||37|
|Junior colleges; local||11|
|Junior colleges; state||6|
Many postsecondary teachers find their jobs rewarding because they are surrounded by others who enjoy the subject they teach. The opportunity to share their expertise with others is appealing to many.
However, some postsecondary teachers must find a balance between teaching students and doing research and publishing their findings. This can be stressful, especially for beginning teachers seeking advancement in 4-year research universities. At the community college level, professors focus mainly on teaching students and administrative duties.
Classes are generally held during the day, although some are offered in the evenings and weekends to accommodate students who have jobs or family obligations.
Although some postsecondary teachers teach summer courses, many use that time to conduct research, involve themselves in professional development, or to travel.
Many postsecondary teachers teach part time, and may teach courses at several colleges or universities. Some may have a full-time job in their field of expertise in addition to a part-time teaching position. For example, an active lawyer or judge might teach a law school class during the evening.
Postsecondary teachers’ schedules generally are flexible. Full-time teachers need to be on campus to teach classes and have office hours. Otherwise, they are free to set their schedule to prepare for classes and grade assignments. They may also spend time carrying out administrative responsibilities, such as serving on committees.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of postsecondary teachers.
|Occupation||Job Duties||Entry-Level Education||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Career and Technical Education Teachers
Career and technical education teachers instruct students in various technical and vocational subjects, such as auto repair, healthcare, and culinary arts.
Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals
Elementary, middle, and high school principals oversee all school operations, including daily school activities.
Instructional coordinators oversee school curriculums and teaching standards. They develop instructional material, implement it, and assess its effectiveness.
Postsecondary Education Administrators
Postsecondary education administrators oversee student services, academics, and faculty research at colleges and universities.
For more information about postsecondary teachers, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Postsecondary Teachers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm (visited ).