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3 Careers in Higher Education

November 11, 2022

Promoting employment equity, advancing charitable causes, and managing campus activities are just a few of the exciting opportunities to choose from in higher education careers.

While many higher education jobs are at colleges and universities, the chance to shape the future of postsecondary education also can extend to other education-focused organizations. Whether on or off-campus, many of these roles require a bachelor’s or postgraduate degree, such as a Master of Education (MEd) in Education Policy and Leadership. If you are interested in higher education leadership roles, consider the following three career paths.

Diversity and Inclusion Director 

Colleges and universities and other higher education-focused organizations employ diversity and inclusion directors to help ensure policies are fair, inclusive, and promote the representation of many populations. This work could include guiding practices to hire and retain a diverse group of education professionals—and then ensuring the school or organization includes these employees in leadership and decision making.

On campuses, these professionals focus on policies for faculty and staff. For organizations, their work targets employee practices.

Diversity and Inclusion Director Job Responsibilities

Schools and organizations rely on diversity and inclusion experts to develop programs to recruit and retain faculty and staff from a variety of backgrounds. Diversity and inclusion directors lead programs that help ensure all employees have equal opportunities to advance.

Steps to Become a Diversity and Inclusion Director

Diversity and inclusion in higher education have accelerated since the 2020 death of George Floyd when protests against racial injustices placed a spotlight on the country’s societal discrimination and inequities. There are both educational and skill requirements for stepping into this important role. 

Required Education

Diversity and inclusion directors can have backgrounds in a variety of disciplines. They typically hold at least a bachelor’s degree, often in a human resources-related major. An advanced degree in education policy and leadership can help professionals in higher education diversity and inclusion focus their work on policies and strategies that affect those in the postsecondary education community. 

Required Skills

Diversity and inclusion directors rely on skills such as analysis, leadership, and communication. These skills assist them with their work in developing and evaluating training programs as well as establishing and communicating policies.

Diversity and Inclusion Director Salary and Job Outlook

According to the compensation data source Payscale, the median annual salary for diversity directors in May 2022 was $92,000. The job outlook for this role looks promising, with postings for diversity and inclusion directors increasing by about 56 percent between September 2019 and September 2020 according to Business Insider—even amid a struggling economy. Colleges, universities, and other organizations are continuing their efforts to show support for employees and students from all backgrounds.

Nonprofit Leader 

In 2021 there were 1.54 million nonprofit organizations in the US, according to data insights provider Statista. Among the nation’s nonprofits are those that focus on supporting the causes and policies of colleges and universities and their students. Examples of major higher education nonprofits are the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) and United Negro College Fund (UNCF).

Higher education nonprofits tackle a variety of issues, from promoting the study of science and technology to funding college access for students in need.

Roles that lead these organizations in efforts such as fundraising and outreach are among the careers in higher education.

Higher Education Nonprofit Leader Job Responsibilities

The work of nonprofit leaders can include:

  • Building awareness about an organization’s work and mission
  • Coordinating volunteer efforts
  • Meeting with representatives of schools and other groups and businesses

Steps to Become a Higher Education Nonprofit Leader

In some cases, the path to nonprofit leadership begins with volunteer experience. Typically, organizational leaders hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

Required Education

It’s beneficial for leaders to earn a degree in the field in which their organization focuses. For higher education nonprofits, an advanced degree in education can lead to a deep understanding of higher education concerns, from policy awareness to social justice, that help lead an organization’s efforts. 

Higher education can prepare graduates to further nonprofits’ missions, causes, and goals focused on a variety of policies and practices that affect faculty, staff, and students. Examples include:

  • Gender equity
  • Food insecurity
  • State funding policy
  • Workforce development programs

Required Skills

Nonprofit leaders should have skills in communication, decision-making, and leadership. Other helpful skills are abilities in budgeting and fundraising to support the organization’s mission. Nonprofit leaders might oversee outreach to donors, for example, or the compiling of budget information to share with stakeholders.

Higher Education Nonprofit Leader Salary and Job Outlook

In May 2022, the median annual salary for nonprofit organization executive directors was about $69,100, according to Payscale. Growth for top executive roles was expected to be about average between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS, which projects an 8 percent increase in jobs. 

While the BLS projects a decline of 6 percent in chief executive roles because of increased automation and evolving leadership structures, it forecasts a 9 percent increase in general and operations management roles to meet the ongoing demand for organizational management.

Postsecondary Education Administrator 

Administrators at higher education institutions have roles that vary according to the size of the college or university. Administrators at smaller schools typically oversee a variety of responsibilities, while leaders at larger schools usually focus on a single area. 

At smaller colleges, for example, student affairs can include responsibilities ranging from campus organizations to athletics. At larger universities, administrators from different units oversee these functions, with athletics programming being a separate area.

Postsecondary Education Administrator Job Responsibilities

Higher education careers on campuses include roles in admissions, academic affairs, student affairs, and student and class records management.

Admissions Administrator

Admissions administrators decide which student applicants the institution should admit. Their work includes:

  • Determining how many students to admit
  • Encouraging prospective students to apply
  • Reviewing applications


Provosts, also called chief academic officers, work with college and university presidents, leading efforts related to school policy and research. Their work can focus on:

  • Establishing academic policies
  • Managing research and budgets
  • Making decisions related to faculty


Registrars keep student and course records. Their responsibilities vary throughout the academic year, but, in general, registrars’ work includes:

  • Scheduling courses
  • Managing class registration
  • Maintaining databases about students and courses
  • Preparing transcripts and diplomas

Student Affairs Administrator

Student affairs administrators focus on student activities and engagement—from social functions to family outreach. These professionals may deal with a specific aspect of student life, such as extracurricular activities or multicultural affairs. Student affairs can include the following aspects:

  • Establishing nonacademic programming
  • Advising students on issues such as personal concerns or academics
  • Communicating with families

Steps to Become a Postsecondary Education Administrator

Higher education careers in administration typically require at least a master’s degree in education or a related field. Some roles, including provost, often require a doctoral degree. 

Required Education

A master’s degree in education policy and leadership can provide postsecondary education administrators with a solid foundation for a higher education administration role. The degree program can inform their work related to postsecondary systems, policy, and research. 

For roles requiring a doctoral degree, higher education administrators may start out as professors. 

Required Skills

The roles of postsecondary education administrators require interpersonal, organizational, and problem-solving skills. These skills assist postsecondary administrators in working with students and families. They can be helpful in addressing difficult situations that can arise with students and faculty—from challenges regarding academic progress to concerns related to tenure appointments. 

Postsecondary Education Administrator Salary and Job Outlook

Payscale provides these approximate median annual salaries for the positions of admissions director, provost, registrar, and student affairs director:

  • Admissions director—$70,500 in November 2021
  • Provost—$171,700 in May 2022
  • Registrar—$60,300 in June 2022
  • Student affairs director—$77,400 in April 2022

The BLS projects 8 percent growth in postsecondary education administrator roles between 2020 and 2030, a pace that’s on par with anticipated growth in other professions. While employment projections can fluctuate according to college enrollment and funding, the BLS anticipates employment opportunities will continue to grow as people seek to further their careers by pursuing higher education.

Guide Students’ Path to Pursuing Successful Careers

Careers in higher education can shape the futures of students and the communities where they live and work. An online Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership from American University can prepare those with a passion for advancing higher education to lead the way in policy and administration. The program’s emphasis on equitable and effective education policies, leadership, social justice, and research can prepare future leaders for a variety of career paths in education.

Explore how American University’s online Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership program can help you advance your career in higher education.