Salary and Career Info for College Instructors

Sep 19, 2019

College instructors require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and research requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

College instructors teach in many fields and capacities. Academic credentials are strongly linked to their career prospects because subject matter knowledge is of utmost importance to their job.

Essential Information

College instructors, or postsecondary teachers, are full-time faculty and adjunct professors teaching a wide variety of subjects at the postsecondary level. They are organized into departments based on the field in which they teach. A master's degree is the minimum education required to become a college instructor, but it's common for professors to hold the terminal degree in their particular field, especially when teaching at a 4-year university or college. This is often a Ph.D. Anyone interested in a career in academia should be prepared to balance teaching and grading papers with required research time.

Required Education Master's degree at minimum; Ph.D. (or terminal degree in the field) is common and often required for teaching at 4-year schools
Other Requirements A certain amount of time committed to research
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 11% for all postsecondary teachers*
Average Salary (2018) Varies by field; for example, $82,560 for postsecondary art, drama and music teachers; $103,330 for postsecondary business teachers; $87,140 for postsecondary mathematics science teachers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Info for College Instructors

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the salaries of college instructors depend on a number of factors, including the competitiveness of the institution at which the instructor works, the instructor's field and the geographic area in which the college is located. An instructor's rank within an institution - whether one is an adjunct instructor or tenured faculty - is a key factor in the salary.

Adjunct instructors are often paid on a class-by-class basis and therefore make a salary depending on how many classes they teach per semester. Payment per class for adjunct instructors depends on the college at which the student teaches.

Tenured professors often begin at a flat rate dependent on the college. BLS statistics from 2018 indicated that the average salary for postsecondary teacher (not listed by specialty) was $76,990 in May of that year. According to the BLS, the lowest-paid ten percent earned $27,490 or less and the highest ten percent earned more than $136,490 per year in 2018. For those teachers listed by specialty, some average salary examples include $82,560 for art, music and drama teachers, $103,330 for business teachers and $87,140 for mathematical science teachers.

According to, a college instructor may increase his or her salary regularly by earning additional degrees and certifications. One must also focus on getting published and presenting academic papers at conferences regularly for a steady salary increase.

Career Info for College Instructors

College instructors may teach at either 2-year community colleges or 4-year colleges and universities. According to the California Occupational Guide and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, college instructors must have earned, at minimum, a master's degree in the subject in which they teach. If a master's degree isn't offered within the subject they'd wish to teach, the college instructor should have a bachelor's degree and a certificate or license.

Most full-time professors at 4-year colleges and universities have a doctoral degree within their subject of interest. There are exceptions, though many universities receive accreditation based upon, among other things, the percentage of professors with Ph.D.s. College instructors are required to conduct research and write papers according to this research, as well.

College instructors spend their days teaching college students one or more subjects in their area of specialization; the balance between teaching and research responsibilities will vary according to the subject matter and a school's philosophy and goals. Professors must stay current with any new developments in their field and seek to publish their own work so as to better represent the school and themselves, thereby earning more pay and gaining tenure status.

Aspiring college instructors can expect higher than average job growth overall, but should be aware of the difference between tenured and adjunct faculty. The former typically is more lucrative with a set salary, while the latter depends largely on the number of class hours taught. Tenured faculty typically have a Ph.D. and can expect to balance research responsibilities with teaching.

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