Higher Education Careers: 2023 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Higher Education Careers: 2023 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Based on the 2021 fall term pulse point survey of college and university presidents, the most pressing issues in higher education are the mental health of students, declining enrollment numbers, and retaining current faculty and staff (Cecil and Melidona, 2022). In the current disruptive world, traditional colleges and universities are approaching a crossroads. A transformation is underway, one that will create a more sustainable and connected educational network. This makes the pursuit of higher education career paths very timely as the sector is gearing up for a major makeover.

In search of efficiencies and increased capabilities, colleges and universities today are changing not just the curriculum and learning delivery but also their operating model. With 42% of presidents anticipating a continued shift in student demographics, institutions are redefining the role of higher education (Cecil and Melidona, 2022). Now is the best time to start your career in this sector.

The Research.com team has carefully evaluated curated trends in higher education careers, including higher education salary data and job growth to provide you with the most comprehensive guide to working in higher education. Included is a section on how to start your career in higher education, and how to advance in the field. The possible roles that you may take as you work in college or in the university are also discussed.

Higher Education Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in higher education?
  2. Higher Education Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Higher Education
  4. How to Start Your Career in Higher Education
  5. How can I advance my career in higher education?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Higher Education

Why pursue a career in higher education?

Universities and colleges are among the largest employers in most states, which means that the benefits of higher education extend beyond educating students. A career in higher education opens opportunities for rewarding jobs in academic affairs, research, professional services, and student affairs, among others. Perhaps, the most significant reward for pursuing a career in higher education will be your ability to influence student outcomes.

There are a variety of roles classified under higher education careers, including academic posts, research-related posts, administrative posts, and professional services, which encompass IT jobs and other functions. Higher education majors may choose to concentrate on higher education technologies, student development, international education, educational leadership, enrollment management, or community college leadership.

Between 2020-21 and 2021-22, the higher education jobs with the highest growth include institutional research analyst (161%) head of campus museum (120%), and head of IT service delivery (64%) (CUPA-HR, 2022). Since every educational institution is also an organization that is composed of different functions that ensure the smooth operations of the school, careers in higher education are also similar to other career paths that bring both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.

Source: College and University Professional Association for Human Resources

Higher Education Career Outlook

Unlike other careers that have a seasonality element, in the higher education sector, there is always a high demand, which makes it one of the best college majors. In fact, among employers, nine out of 10, or 87% believe that a college degree is still worth the investment (BPC, 2021). The total undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase by 8% between 2020 and 2030 (NCES, 2022). This means that there will be an increased need for higher education professionals through 2030.

Library Assistant$34,050-4%
Records Clerk$38,327-5%
Student Academic Counseling Head$64,09210%
Credential Specialist$45,2897%
Chief HR Officer$84,8876%
Student Affairs Deputy Chief$93,3377%
Chief IT Officer$166,1366%
College Dean$181,5957%
Chief Auxiliary Services Officer$117,65010%

Required Skills for Higher Education Professionals

Higher education professionals play a significant role in preparing students for the “real” world. As such, those who manage higher education institutions are expected to continually evolve and adapt their management style to cope with both internal and external disruptions.  Studying the key factors for sustaining the competitive advantage of higher education institutions, Miotto et al (2020) identified the intangible assets that sustain the competitiveness of colleges and universities.

In their research “Reputation and legitimacy: Key factors for Higher Education Institutions’ sustained competitive advantage” published in the Journal of Business Research, the authors concluded that “With the increasing global competitiveness, these institutions are fighting to obtain economic private and public funding, recruit the most promising students, establish the most productive corporate relationships, and engage their alumni. As happens to all HEIs, in order to have access to these necessary resources, university administrators are changing their management style, and establishing renovated strategic plans.”

A career in higher education provides a unique opportunity to influence a student’s future. Higher education professionals are able to teach students various skills that make them ready and adaptable for the world of work. For this reason, the following skills should be embodied by those who want to pursue careers in higher education.

Essential Skills for Higher Education Professionals

Collaboration and networking. The ability to work well with others is a key skill as educational institutions typically work with other organizations and institutions in providing and enhancing the learning experiences of students. In addition, partnerships and collaborations with other schools are essential in improving program offerings.

Ability to communicate with empathy. Unlike with other organizations where relationships are purely business in nature, working in the higher education sector requires a commitment to upholding the welfare of students. Some higher education professionals involved in student affairs even take up online psychology degrees to learn counseling skills.

Teamwork and relationship-building skills. In academic posts and research-related posts, teamwork is essential. The presence of various stakeholders and different departments requires skills that work well with teams. Higher education professionals are expected to have the capacity to form relationships with other institutions for the advancement of practice.

Organizational Skills. In research and teaching, organizational skills are essential. From preparing the instructional materials to delivery and evaluation, organizational skills are important to achieve course objectives. This also applies to the conduct of research and administration. Higher education professionals should be able to identify which is the most important among everyday tasks.

General Skills for Higher Education Professionals

Communication Skills. Both oral and written communication skills are essential in any type of job, but more so in higher education careers. Everyday interactions with various stakeholders will require the ability to communicate clearly. Among employers, 54% agree that communication is among the most important skills college graduates should be able to demonstrate (BPC, 2021). From coordinating with other teams to delivering important announcements, higher education professionals should be able to communicate clearly. There are available writing degrees online for professionals that want to improve this particular skill.

Critical Thinking Skills. The ability to evaluate situations free of any bias is essential in higher education careers. In every decision process, the welfare of students as well as of other stakeholders needs to be considered. A survey by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Association of Colleges and Universities found that 62% of college students believe that critical thinking skills are a top priority for higher education while 60% of employers consider it very important for workforce success (BPC, 2021).

Problem-Solving Skills. In roles related to student affairs, you will most likely encounter problems. From financing problems to academic challenges, higher education professionals will have to assist students in resolving their concerns. This requires strong problem-solving skills. Significant pedagogical transitions require HEIs to adapt and make the necessary changes. Pandya et al (2021) established in their study that during emergencies, it is possible to maintain high standards of teaching and learning so long as the administrators possess problem-solving skills that can quickly pivot colleges and universities.

Leadership. For administrators and heads of departments in higher education, leadership is crucial. The ability to lead teams toward a common goal is important. Higher education careers require leadership skills to be able to move forward with courage even in the most challenging times. Higher education professionals typically take online masters in leadership programs for career advancement.

What employers think of communication skills

How to Start Your Career in Higher Education

Every department in higher education influences the student’s trajectory. This makes a career in higher education very rewarding and at the same time challenging path. Students keen on pursuing a career in higher education start by taking a two-year associate degree or four-year bachelor’s degree. These typically require a high school degree or a general education (GED) test passing score.

Careers in higher education are classified as professionals, staff, administrators, tenure-track faculty, and non-tenure-track teaching faculty. In the academic year 2020 to 2021, the average pay for office and administrative support occupations is $45,593 (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2022).

What jobs can higher education majors get?

 Student Development PathEducational Leadership PathAdmissions and Enrollment Management PathTeaching Path
Manages student affairs.Manages the teaching and learning process.
Manages all enrollment-related procedures.Teaches the fundamentals and advanced principles of education. Involves academic research in the middle and senior levels.
Entry Level JobsRecords Clerk ($38,327)Executive Assistant ($48,888)Enrollment Assistant ($39,048)Instructor, Education ($55,022)
Junior Management JobsStudent Academic Counseling Head ($64,092)Study Abroad Program Coordinator ($47,239)Credential Specialist ($45,289)Associate Professor, Education ($84,334)
Middle Management JobsStudent Affairs Deputy Chief ($93,337)Head, Campus Teaching Center ($87,000)Chief Student Admissions Officer ($134,000)Full Professor, Education ($107,743)
Senior Management JobsChief, Auxiliary Services Officer ($117,650)Chief Campus Administrator ($133,800)Admissions Director ($169,623)Dean, Liberal Arts ($147,238)
*Values are estimates.

What can I do with an associate’s degree in higher education?

Enrollment Assistant

Enrollment assistants communicate with external and internal customers on application policies. They explain procedures as well as application decisions to student applicants. This role provides assistance to the director of enrollment in managing the enrollment process. Classified under non-instructional employees, enrollment assistants belong to professional higher education employees.

Median salary: $39,048

Executive Assistant

Aside from routine and organizational tasks, the executive assistant of senior school administrators is tasked with checking all reports submitted to the administrator. The executive assistant ensures that all documents are complete for the administrator’s perusal. In addition, the executive assistant serves as the principal administrative contact with all constituents.

Median salary: $48,888

Records Clerk

In higher education, the records clerk ensures that all the documents submitted by the student are properly stored. Aside from processing and maintaining student records, the records clerk also collects related information and performs data entry. The records clerk also distributes copies of student transcripts and registration information.

Median salary: $38,327

What can I do with a bachelor’s degree in higher education?

Study Abroad Program Coordinator

Overseeing the planning, development, implementation, and evaluation of student and faculty needs, the program coordinator provides assistance to students and faculties that plan to pursue further studies abroad. They help students and faculty who want to participate in international study programs, including application and securing of visas.

Median Salary: $47,239

Student Academic Counseling Head

The student academic counseling head provides counseling to students to help them meet academic and career goals. Among the duties of the student academic counseling head is designing programs for students to address specific needs and promote retention. They also give students advice on educational and personal issues, and personal development.

Median Salary: $64,092

Credential Specialist

Maintaining compliance with all regulatory and accrediting institutions is the primary role of the credential specialist. Part of the job of the credential specialist is monitoring staff credentials and licenses and advising staff on renewal procedures, The credential specialist also initiates processes in improving internal credentialing processes.

Median Salary: $ 45,289

Can you get a higher education job with just a certificate?

Yes, there are a lot of higher education jobs that you can get with a certificate. Library certificate programs, bookkeeping, accounting, auditing, and receptionist and customer service are among the programs that you can take to earn a certificate and land an entry-level job in higher education such as office and clerical staff or technical or paraprofessional staff.

Source: College and University Professional Association for Human Resources

How can I advance my career in higher education?

To advance your career in higher education, you can pursue masters and doctorate studies. A bachelor’s degree is required to apply for graduate studies, as you will be asked to submit your college transcript plus, other requirements. In today’s competitive hiring environment, administrative, faculty, and executive positions require graduate degrees and specializations.

Applicants who have advanced degrees in education-related programs are most likely to land executive-level administrator jobs. Most colleges offer online master’s degree in higher education as well as doctorate programs. For busy higher education professionals, studying online is a viable option when it comes to taking steps toward career advancement.

What can I do with a master’s in higher education?

Head, Campus Teaching Center

The campus teaching center head ensures that learning centers are consistent with the district’s vision, mission, and goals. This role is responsible for curriculum development and also oversees the teaching, learning, and assessment strategy of the college or university. The campus teaching center head also communicates campus policies to faculty and students.

Median salary: $87,000

Student Affairs Deputy Chief

The student affairs deputy chief is responsible for the operational management and administrative direction of a student affairs unit. This encompasses operations, strategic planning, and administration of functional policies and programs. Representing executive leadership, the student affairs deputy chief oversees the implementation of all projects and initiatives.

Median salary: $93,337

Chief Student Admissions Officer

The chief admissions officer evaluates student applications and provides advice to potential students on admission requirements and options, including transfer, matriculation, and other related issues. This role also includes the development of associated programs and marketing materials.

Median salary: $89,874

What kind of job can I get with a doctorate in higher education?

Dean, Education

The main role of the dean is to facilitate growth and development, create a positive work and learning environment, and advocate for the interests of the college or the institution. They provide leadership and motivation and facilitate change while effectively managing resources and personnel. This includes managing the ratio of adjunct faculty to full-time faculty, which registered at 74 to 100 in the 2021-2022 academic year for all types of institutions (CUPA-HR, 2022).

Median Salary: $181,595

Chief Campus Administrator

The chief campus administrator oversees the effective and efficient operations of the campus. This role encompasses monitoring and updating campus documents, ensuring that policies are up-to-date and accessible to all stakeholders. Chief campus administrators coordinate all administrative processes and supervise the work of employees in supporting roles.

Median Salary: $133,800

Chief Auxiliary Services Officer

The chief auxiliary services officer ensures that all college events and operations are provided with all the required support services. Maintaining and performing a variety of administrative responsibilities, the chief auxiliary services officer takes care of developing and implementing processes, procedures, and policies to ensure equal access to services.

Median Salary: $117,650

Which certification is best for higher education?

In the field of higher education, certifications aim to provide continuing education by offering a robust set of credentials to be able to demonstrate competencies and knowledge through ongoing work experiences. For the higher education professional, certifications offer opportunities for both personal and professional development and help them remain relevant in the field.

While most higher education careers do not require certification or licensure, there are professional organizations offering certificate programs such as the National Association for College Admission Counseling for enrollment management, admission, and counseling professionals, the NAFSA Association of International Educators, and the NASPA for student affairs administrators in higher education.

faculty median ratio

Alternative Career Options for Higher Education Professionals

What else can a higher education professional do?

The role of higher education professionals can be very flexible, and can readily shift to other sectors as desired. As such, they easily enjoy higher education career options. Both the administrative and faculty positions include a set of skills that can be very useful in other fields such as property management, human resource management, and even public relations. In the 2020-21 academic year, non-instructional employees in higher education management functions received an average median pay of $111,223 for all types of institutions (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2022). Should these employees decide to shift careers, these are the possible paths they can take.

  • Training and Development Officer. Typically, training and development officers have a bachelor’s degree in education, social science, psychology, or communications. This is related to higher education careers as these undergraduate degrees take similar paths. These professionals plan and administer programs to improve the skills and knowledge of employees.
  • Public Relations Specialists. Creating and maintaining a positive public image is the main task of public relations specialists. This is a very similar role because higher education professionals also uphold institutional values, and aim to sustain good relationships with all stakeholders. They have interpersonal skills, organizational skills, and are good at problem-solving.
  • Administrative and Facilities Managers. Planning, coordinating, and directing a broad range of activities that ensure efficient operations is the main task of the administrative and facilities manager. This role is in charge of identifying and providing the required supplies and services for the organization.

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

A Sustainable Career in Higher Education

Now that undergraduate enrollment is showing signs of recovery, higher education institutions are certainly on their way toward becoming organizations that will provide value to students. The pandemic may have affected enrollment rates, but today signs of recovery are evident with colleges and universities offering more online programs while maintaining on-campus options for students.

The disruption in higher education has accelerated change. It was initially challenging but higher education professionals displayed adaptability and resiliency in adjusting to the new normal in learning delivery. Based on the assessment of the Research.com team on the latest enrollment data from colleges and universities, higher education institutions are thriving. This only signals that a career in higher education is very promising as universities transform their operating model and focus on increasing value and return.

College education influences job security and this is what fuels the growth of higher education institutions. By employing digitally enabled architecture and aligning an empowered workforce, higher education will continue to evolve and your career in higher education will find paths that are sustainable and adaptable.


  1. Bipartisan Policy Center (2021). Is college Worth the Time and Money?
  2. Cecil, B.G. and Melidona, D. (2022). 2021 Fall Term Pulse Point Survey of College and University Presidents, Part 3.
  3. College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (2022). Positions and Disciplines with the Greatest Growth and Decline.
  4. College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (2022). Median Ratios for Staff, Faculty, and Students
  5. Miotto, G., Del-Castillo-Feito, C., and Blanco-Gonzalez, A. (2020). Reputation and legitimacy: Key factors for Higher Education Institutions’ sustained competitive advantage. Journal of Business Research.
  6. National Center for Education Statistics (2022). Undergraduate Enrollment.
  7. Pandya, B., Patterson, L. and Cho, BooYun (2021). Pedagogical transitions experienced by higher education faculty members – “Pre-Covid to Covid”. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education.
  8. The Chronicle of Higher Education (2022). How Much Has Noninstructional-Employee Pay Changed Over Time?
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Get personalized degree recommendations that will help you find a program that will match your goals and dreams.

The website Research.com is funded by advertising. All school search, finder, and match results, as well as featured or trusted partner programs, are for schools who pay us. Our school rankings, resource guides, or any other editorially impartial content on our website are unaffected by the compensation we receive.