7 High-Level Careers in Higher Education

higher education professor
higher education professor

While colleges and universities may be the first institutions that come to mind as employers of higher education professionals, the opportunities don’t stop there. Independent agencies, research companies, and curriculum designers are some of the many entities that are looking for qualified higher education leaders.

Consider seven high-level careers in higher education, including their job descriptions, required levels of education, and projected rate of growth, followed by a table of average salaries.

1. University Professor

University professors, also known as postsecondary teachers, teach and conduct research at colleges and universities. They are responsible for instructing students in a specialized subject area within a department of the higher education institution.

Job Description

The job description for university professors typically includes:

  • Building a syllabus for their course(s) according to department and administration standards and goals
  • Developing lesson plans and assignments
  • Assessing student work
  • Collaborating with colleagues on curriculum
  • Conducting research and submitting articles for publication in scholarly journals
  • Serving as a program director
  • Participating in college or university committees

Job Outlook

Roles for postsecondary teachers are projected to increase by 8 percent between 2022 and 2032, notably faster than the projected national job growth rate of 3 percent.

Education Requirements

In general, professors must have a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree, such as an Ed.D., in their field. For some community colleges, a master’s degree may be considered sufficient.

2. Postsecondary Education Administrator

Postsecondary education administrators oversee the day-to-day operations of colleges and universities. They lead in areas such as student services, academics, and faculty research.

Job Description

The job description for postsecondary education administrators varies based on the department. Consider a few of the higher education job titles and correlating responsibilities for postsecondary education administrators:

  • Director of Admissions: These professionals may be responsible for determining the size of an incoming class, evaluating students for admission, and leading prospective student recruitment efforts.
  • Academic Dean: Academic deans lead specific colleges or schools in developing curricula, conducting research, hiring qualified instructors, and recruiting students.
  • Head Registrar: By maintaining academic records and course data, the head registrar of a college or university empowers student success and institutional integrity.

Additional higher education administration career paths for postsecondary education administrators include director of student life, residence life director, and financial aid director.

Job Outlook

Roles for these postsecondary education administrators are projected to increase by 4 percent between 2022 and 2032.

Education Requirements

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that most postsecondary education administrators must have a master’s degree. A bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for some roles. For academic dean positions, candidates must have a Ph.D. or equivalent degree, such as an Ed.D., in the field.

3. Academic Consultant

Academic consultants, also called education consultants, work with colleges and universities to improve their teaching and learning programs. They may be employees or leaders of educational firms or independent agencies.

Job Description

While there may be some variance in the day-to-day responsibilities of academic consultants, their role typically includes:

  • Evaluating existing academic programs to identify opportunities for improvement
  • Assessing the educational needs of college programs
  • Developing data-driven proposals for curriculum, resources, and materials
  • Recommending technology solutions, training programs, and ongoing evaluation tools

In addition to academic input, education consultants in the higher education space may consult in areas such as enrollment, student services, and campus life.

Job Outlook

The BLS estimates that roles in educational instruction and library occupations will grow about as fast as the average for all occupations from 2022 to 2032. 

Education Requirements

Academic consultants typically need at least a bachelor’s degree. Many choose to earn a master’s degree as well.

4. Department Chair

Department chairs are responsible for the day-to-day operations of their academic departments. These higher education professionals oversee faculty, curriculum, strategic planning, and degree programs.

Job Description

While there is variance across departments and universities, most department chairs will be responsible for tasks such as:

  • Leading their departments in goal-setting
  • Managing faculty, staff, budgets, and resources
  • Building a curriculum to serve students and meet accreditation standards
  • Recruiting, developing, and retaining high-quality faculty members
  • Pursuing student success

Department chairs may also participate in high-level administrative work such as collaborations with other department chairs for institutional efforts.

Job Outlook

Roles for postsecondary education administrators should grow 4 percent between 2022 and 2032.

Education Requirements

Department chairs must almost always have a terminal degree in the relevant field, whether a Ph.D., an Ed.D., or another doctoral degree, and almost always are appointed from the department’s faculty.

5. Instructional Designer

Instructional designers develop and implement instructional materials and experiences for college and university students. Some professionals work within colleges or universities while others work for educational support organizations or private companies.

Job Description

Instructional designers, also known as curriculum designers, tend to be responsible for:

  • Collaborating with subject matter experts to assess educational objectives
  • Developing academic resources such as curriculum and lesson plans
  • Leveraging instructional design principles to create high-quality products
  • Assessing and evaluating programs and materials
  • Training instructors in implementation

As colleges and universities increasingly emphasize online learning, instructional designers often work in tandem with graphic designers and technology professionals to create e-learning opportunities.

Job Outlook

Roles for instructional designers are expected to grow by 2 percent between 2022 and 2023.

Education Requirements

Instructional designers need a master’s degree. Professionals who continue their education through a program such as an Ed.D. may find that they have even more opportunities to succeed in the field.

6. Educational Researcher

Educational researchers conduct research on a variety of higher education topics, such as student learning, teaching effectiveness, and institutional policy. They may work for colleges, universities, testing companies, or nonprofits.

Job Description

The job responsibilities of educational researchers may include:

  • Collecting information through various modes including surveys and assessments
  • Analyzing data to harvest meaningful insights
  • Presenting research findings to key stakeholders

Some educational researchers also work in policy development and advocacy, lobbying based on their research findings.

Job Outlook

Employment for professionals in educational instruction and library occupations should grow about as fast as the average for all occupations from 2022 to 2032.

Education Requirements

Educational researchers typically need a doctoral degree in education, such as an Ed.D. Some professionals may have doctoral degrees in research or a related field, such as data analysis.

7. Chief Academic Officer

Chief academic officers are responsible for their institution’s academic programs and research. They work with the president and other senior administrators to develop and implement the institution's strategic plan.

Job Description

Chief academic officers, also called provosts, are typically responsible for:

  • Leading all academic efforts within a higher education institution
  • Overseeing strategic planning efforts, budgets, and accreditation standards
  • Developing educational programs, curriculum, policies, and student success initiatives
  • Recruiting, developing, and retaining faculty

Job Outlook

Roles for chief executives are projected to grow about as fast as average between 2022 and 2032.

Education Requirements

Chief academic officers need a terminal degree, such as a Ph.D. or Ed.D., in a relevant field.

Salaries in Higher Education

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides median annual salary information for several roles in higher education. The table below lists those salaries as of May 2022. Asterisked salaries correlate to roles that are not listed on the BLS and are based on ZipRecruiter average salaries as of January 2024.

Job Title

Average Salary

University Professor


Postsecondary Education Administrator


Education Consultant


University Department Chair


Instructional Designer/Coordinator


Educational Researcher


Chief Academic Officer


Why Work in Higher Education?

While the day-to-day work may differ across positions, all higher education administration career paths share a common goal: making a difference in the lives of students and shaping the future of both education and the workforce. In doing so, professionals become part of a vibrant and innovative educational community, can conduct research and publish their work, and enjoy work-life balance while furthering knowledge in their field.

How to Pursue a Higher Education Role

Professionals interested in higher education leadership roles can prepare to reach their career goals with an Ed.D. in Education and Leadership from Rockhurst University. Instead of a dissertation, students will complete a capstone project applicable to their career or area of interest. With a real-world emphasis designed for working professionals, this fully online, cohort-based program can be completed in just two years and will equip passionate, qualified leaders for a wide range of roles in higher education.

Prepare to lead with Rockhurst’s online Ed.D. in Higher Education.

About Rockhurst University's Online Programs

In the heart of Kansas City since 1910, Rockhurst University is dedicated to learning, leadership and service in the Jesuit tradition, and today is the #1 Regional University in Kansas City (2021 U.S. News and World Report).

Rockhurst University’s online programs are delivered by the highly reputable Saint Luke’s ™ College of Nursing and Health Sciences and the School of Education. As an educational leader serving exceptional students in the field of health care and education, we are committed to preparing the workforce of tomorrow with our unique programs designed to prepare graduates to meet the needs of diverse populations and work in various organizations.

To learn more about our highly competitive online programs, please visit onlinedegrees.rockhurst.edu, or read more here: