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What’s Next After a Master’s Degree? Careers in Education Policy

School counselor advising students.

With their curricula completed and diplomas in hand, master’s degree graduates may find themselves wondering which professional road to take next. American University’s Online Master of Education (MEd) in Education Policy and Leadership program graduates are prepared to pursue dozens of rewarding, enriching careers within education policy, in which they can use their advanced skills and deep understanding of educational trends and issues to have a positive impact on students and teachers.

Considering all the options available, though, it can be difficult for graduate degree holders to decide on the career path best suited to them. It’s important that future education leaders fully understand certain education positions and how they work to improve schools and communities. Explore some of the enriching, unique education career choices available to MEd graduates.

Superintendent

Superintendents are top officials, helping guide and manage education policy in a particular school district. They work directly with individual school principals, district staff, and government officials and representatives to ensure that students district-wide are receiving the best education possible.

On any given day, a school superintendent may review, revise, and make recommendations to a proposed school or district budget; hire and oversee the onboarding of new staff; visit city hall or a local government office to advocate for more funds or resources for the district; and appear at individual schools to see how they’re performing, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Job growth and salary expectations for this career in education policy can vary depending on where a superintendent works, as well as the size of the district. PayScale lists the average annual salary for a school superintendent at $116,145 and notes that individuals who have more experience in this role tend to earn higher salaries.

Skills recommended to succeed as a superintendent:

  • Diplomatic — School superintendents need to manage and work with a diverse range of individuals. It’s crucial that they’re able to maintain relationships and balance needs.

  • Leadership — When educators and district staff are looking for new ways to excel and grow, they turn to superintendents for guidance.

  • Highly organized — Superintendents can oversee many schools that can each employ dozens of educators who instruct hundreds of students. They must be able to keep necessary information pertaining to schools and people updated and organized.

  • Empathetic — Students, parents, teachers, and administrative staff all have unique needs. Superintendents have to be conscious about how their actions and decisions will impact their districts.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Postsecondary education administrators are professionals who work in higher education environments, such as colleges and universities, and oversee and assist with administrative tasks that help their schools function efficiently. They can work in specialized departments at universities; be focused solely on the concerns of professors, students, and other staff; and ensure that necessary services are being provided to student bodies and larger faculties, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Depending on which department or school within a college or university they work with, professionals in this education policy career can help students register for classes and obtain financial aid; collaborate with members of an admissions committee to notify prospective students who have received admission; provide information regarding social activities and health and wellness resources to new students; and manage organizational processes and procedures for students who may be facing academic or interpersonal issues on campus.

The job outlook for postsecondary education administrators is strong, with the BLS projecting a 10 percent growth between 2016 and 2026. As more individuals attend college, there will likely be a need for postsecondary education administrators to help them and address their concerns. At the time of writing, PayScale lists the average annual salary for a postsecondary education administrator at $60,708. Factors that influence the salary or growth potential include the particular school, budget, and years of experience in the field.

Skills recommended to succeed as a postsecondary education administrator:

  • People management — Postsecondary education administrators work with a large number of students, instructors, and education staff members. Being able to maintain relationships with these individuals is crucial.

  • Passionate — Postsecondary education administrators need to be able to feel invested in how their efforts improve the university body.

  • Well informed — Oftentimes, postsecondary education administrators are the go-to experts regarding the departments they may be working in. It’s important that they know the full procedures regarding how their departments work.

  • Forward-looking — Postsecondary education administrators follow university processes; however, they must also be willing to make recommendations to help improve efficiency.

School Counselor

School counselors are professionals who can help support students’ academic and social development in various ways. Depending on where they work, these professionals can help students prepare for certain examinations, discuss options regarding college admissions and future careers, make recommendations about changing a student’s curriculum, and potentially address students’ disciplinary or emotional concerns.

Professionals in this career in education policy can work in public and private schools, in colleges and universities, and even for career centers or in private practice, according to the BLS. Their daily responsibilities may include evaluating whether a student’s GPA and standardized test scores meet certain colleges’ requirements, communicating with campus and job recruiters to organize events, meeting with students who may be suspected of violating certain academic or disciplinary policies, and providing general feedback and guidance regarding a student’s future career.

The BLS projects a 13 percent job growth for school counselors between 2016 and 2026, a reflection of how schools facing increasing enrollments will likely need more counselors to help provide services to students. At the time of writing, PayScale lists the average annual salary for a school counselor at $49,731, with experienced and late career professionals tending to earn more than average.

Skills recommended to succeed as a school counselor:

  • Innovation — School counselors often help students find solutions to difficult educational and career problems. They need to be creative and discover new approaches that can help students succeed.

  • Listening — School counselors can have a large impact on each and every student they work with. It’s important that they fully listen to and understand students’ needs and concerns.

  • Outreach — School counselors are oftentimes a student’s connection to a particular college or university. School counselors need to build and maintain relationships with outside education staff.

  • Respect — School counselors may deal with students’ disciplinary concerns. It’s important that they be able to communicate respect in these difficult situations.

Nonprofit Leadership

Nonprofit leaders can work in various capacities that help their organizations reach their goals. For a nonprofit that focuses on an educational cause or initiative, leaders can oversee staff members in specific or multiple departments, collaborate with other senior members to design strategies to achieve goals, build relationships with the public and other organizations with similar missions, and conduct fundraising and outreach initiatives to ensure that their organization has ample resources to operate.

On a given day, education nonprofit leaders may review fundraising efforts for a particular initiative, coordinate events that help raise awareness about a nonprofit, organize campaigns to increase volunteer activity, and speak with researchers and other specialists to glean insights about their organization’s mission and goals. “The CEO of a nonprofit organization is the leader that manages daily work and establishes long-term vision for the agency,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

Over 12 million individuals held nonprofit jobs in 2016, according to the BLS. Many nonprofit employment opportunities were on the East Coast, with states like New York, Vermont, and Maine accounting for the highest percentages—17.7, 18.8, and 18.0 percent, respectively—of nonprofit employment out of total private employment. At the time of writing, PayScale lists the average annual salary of a nonprofit organization’s executive director at $65,000, with some individuals earning as high as $122,000 in this education policy career.

Skills recommended to succeed in nonprofit leadership:

  • Strategy — Nonprofit leaders must be able to plan for the future, often with limited resources or finances. Being able to devise strong strategies is crucial to success.

  • Fundraising — Nonprofit budgets are often built entirely, if not greatly, from public donations. It’s important that nonprofit leaders know how to raise funds.

  • Dedication — Nonprofit organizations are often dedicated to a particular mission, cause, or goal. Nonprofit leaders need to show that they fully believe and support their organization’s mission.

  • Flexible — Nonprofits may not have the necessary staff to address certain problems or conflicts. Nonprofit leaders who can adapt to new situations have a great chance of success.

Instructional Coordinator

Instructional coordinators are professionals who help devise curricula and educational materials, while measuring their overall effectiveness in helping students obtain knowledge and skills. These professionals “observe teachers in the classroom, review student test data, and discuss the curriculum with the school staff. Based on their research, they may recommend changes in curriculums to the school board,” according to the BLS.

Their daily responsibilities may include developing curricula intended to help students reach and retain certain educational competencies; cooperating with new teachers and overseeing their training programs; researching and recommending new books or technologies that should be included in classrooms; and providing feedback to other education staff members on the effectiveness of a particular teacher, lesson plan, or curriculum. Instructional coordinators may be focused on specific grades or subjects, or they may operate on a larger level. These education policy career professionals can work in public and private schools; universities and colleges; federal, state, and local government agencies; and other educational agencies, the BLS reports.

The BLS projects an 11 percent job growth for instructional coordinators between 2016 and 2026. This may be attributed to schools increasingly striving to meet state and government test score standards and seeking out instructional coordinators for help. Additionally, as enrollment numbers swell across the country, instructional coordinators are needed to help create curricula that address the needs of a growing number of students. At the time of writing, PayScale lists the average annual salary of an instructional coordinator at $60,252.

Skills recommended to succeed as an instructional coordinator:

  • Data-driven — Instructional coordinators often have to evaluate large amounts of educational data to determine if programs are working. Knowing how to glean data insights can work to their advantage.

  • Visionary — Instructional coordinators need to build curricula that prepare students for today and tomorrow. They need to be able to anticipate future trends and incorporate them in today’s practice.

  • Partnership — Instructional coordinators often share the same ultimate goals as teachers and other education officials. They need to be able to partner with these individuals in pursuit of those goals.

  • Mentorship — Instructional coordinators often work with teachers who are just starting out. Mentoring newer staff members can give them a better chance of success.

State Representative

State representatives are high-level government officials and policymakers who can greatly influence state educational standards and services. State representatives can include an individual who was elected as a US senator or congressperson, as well as a professional who works for that state’s educational board or another state education department. State representatives work to improve statewide educational access and quality, while keeping in mind the particular needs and challenges of individual districts, cities, and communities.

A state representative’s educational policy and career responsibilities may include collaborating with other policymakers on an annual statewide budget, reviewing data regarding school district performance and spending across the state, meeting with constituents to understand their concerns regarding education, and attending public events where they can speak on behalf of the state’s educational programs.

The BLS reports that the average annual salary for a legislator was $47,620 in 2018. Wages can fluctuate depending on factors like a representative’s particular office and state. As legislators and state government officials are often elected to office, growth for this type of role can also fluctuate.

Skills recommended to succeed as an instructional coordinator:

  • Campaigning — State representatives must be able to persuade the public on why educational initiatives are important.

  • Fiscally conscious — State representatives often oversee a large budget that can affect hundreds of schools and thousands of students and employees. Knowing how to best allocate and spend money is crucial.

  • Motivated — Legislators and state representatives may face a lot of red tape when trying to get policies passed. Staying motivated and seeing projects through can help improve education across a state.

  • Teamwork — State representatives can work with dozens, even hundreds, of other professionals. They need to be able to work as a team to complete tasks and objectives.

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