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Become an Academic Program Director: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn about a career as an academic program director. Research the job experience, education and training requirements to make an informed decision about starting a career in postsecondary education administration. View article »

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Video Transcript

Become an Academic Program Director

Academic program directors work in trade schools, colleges and universities. They oversee several aspects of education that include research and curriculum development at the postsecondary level. They usually handle the administrative, financial and curricular aspects of an academic program and create strategic plans to develop and implement new program offerings. Also, these individuals manage annual budgets, prepare proposals and launch other initiatives for program development and implementation. Academic program directors usually have many years of experience working with students, administration and staff at the collegiate level.

An increase in college enrollment is expected to create 9% employment growth for postsecondary education administrators, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career Requirements

Education Level Bachelor's; graduate degree recommended
Degree Field Education, business management, finances, public relations, and more
Experience Experience in program, organizational, and strategic planning; as well as public relations and administration; often a graduate degree with years of experience in postsecondary institutions is required
Key Skills Leadership and administrative skills; good oral and written communications; expertise in project management and goal-setting; program planning, development, and implementation
Salary $88,580 (2015 median for postsecondary education administrators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Statistics

Academic program directors are leaders with good oral and written communications and expertise in administrative tasks, program planning, goal setting and project management, as well as knowledge of program development and implementation. Academic program directors must have at least bachelor's degrees. Most have master's degrees in fields that include education, business management, finance and public relations. According to the BLS, postsecondary education administrators, which include academic program directors, earned a median annual salary of $88,580 in 2015. In academic settings, the highest salaries were paid to those in colleges and universities, followed by junior colleges and trade schools.

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Academic Program Director Steps

How could I become an academic program director?

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Academic program directors must often possess training in various fields, such as business management, finance or public relations. Earning a bachelor's degree in any of these fields may provide some of the necessary training to work as an academic program director, although most of these types of positions require a graduate degree as well as experience.

Step 2: Get Training in Program Planning

A common job duty for academic program directors is program planning. Some entry-level positions in this field provide on-the-job training in program planning. For example, an administrative assistant in the student activities department may receive training by organizing program events. Individuals may also take courses in program planning that cover topics such as goal-setting, activity organization, program implementation, strategic planning and teamwork.

Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree

Graduate degree programs in education, business management or instructional development prepare workers for some program director positions. Coursework in these programs include curriculum assessment, human resources management, school finances, project management, program development, professional communications and administrative technology.

Step 4: Obtain Related Work Experience

Most employers prefer to hire academic program directors with working experience in postsecondary institutions. For example, professors may hold degrees not related to academic administration, but they generally possess years of experience working at universities. This often prepares them for many administrative duties, including program directing.

Step 5: Choose a Specialty

Academic program directors may choose to specialize by working in non-academic departments, including financial aid, counseling or enrollment services. Some professionals may prefer to work as program directors in a particular academic field, such as English, journalism, mathematics or physics. Some universities may require that applicants be department faculty members prior to becoming department program directors.

Step 6: Consider Earning a Doctoral Degree

Academic program directors who want to advance their careers can pursue doctoral degrees to improve their prospects in postsecondary education. Directors with these qualifications can move into research or policy-making positions within their organizations.

Academic program directors have bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees with years of experience in postsecondary institutions. They are leaders who oversee the upper-level administration of community colleges, trade schools, 4-year colleges and universities, and they earn a median annual salary of $88,580.

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