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How to Become a College Administrator: Job Description and Salary

COVID-19 has shifted the paradigm for how education is delivered in the 21st century. Countless students were forced to transition to remote learning at the start of the pandemic, including millions of college students. While online learning at the college level was already fairly common — with more than a third of students taking at least one online class in 2018 — COVID-19 has broadened its use, and institutions expect it to remain in force beyond the pandemic.

Many colleges and universities are implementing and adapting to a blended learning model that incorporates both in-person and virtual education. This new model has numerous benefits, including making education more accessible to a larger, more diverse population of students. However, developing and transitioning to a hybrid learning approach does come with some challenges, including continually updating technological infrastructures and maintaining student engagement.

College administrators are on the front lines of the push to incorporate more efficient and equitable hybrid learning models. Higher education institutions will rely on administrators’ expertise and leadership to make this a reality.

Individuals who are interested in a career in college administration can gain the knowledge and skills they need from a doctorate degree in education, such as Maryville University’s online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership program. Read on for more about the college administrator role and decide whether the position is right for you.

College administrator smiling and sitting in an office.

College Administrator Job Description

College administrators develop, coordinate, and manage various postsecondary programs and departments, including admissions, financial aid, and student affairs. A college administrator’s job description varies based on the specific nature of their role, as well as the size of the institution in which they work. For example, at smaller schools with fewer staff, an administrator may have many different and varied duties, while larger schools may have different offices for specific functions, each with their own administrator.  The variety of college administrator job descriptions means there are many different career options to pursue. Below are some positions that college administrators hold. Note that salary figures are subject to change and can vary based on experience and location.

Admissions Director

Admissions directors make admissions decisions at their institutions. They have a range of responsibilities, including:

  • Determining how many students to admit
  • Meeting with prospective students
  • Analyzing applicant data
  • Developing and overseeing the production of admissions materials

Admissions directors earned a median salary of about $60,000 per year as of July 2021, according to the compensation website PayScale.

Financial Aid Director

Financial aid directors manage the programs that provide financial assistance to students, including loan programs, scholarships, and grant-in-aid programs. They manage an institution’s financial aid office and staff, and perform a variety of tasks, including:

  • Preparing applications for government funding
  • Evaluating applications for student aid
  • Ensuring compliance with all state and federal regulations

Financial aid directors earned a median salary of about $66,000 per year as of June 2021, according to PayScale.

Provost

Provosts, sometimes referred to as chief academic officers, oversee an institution’s educational programs. They ensure its academic goals are achieved by:

  • Developing academic policies
  • Appointing faculty members
  • Determining tenure
  • Supervising faculty research
  • Managing departmental budgets

Provosts earned a median salary of $154,000 per year as of June 2021, according to PayScale.

Student Affairs Director

Student affairs directors oversee and direct many aspects of student life, including housing and extracurricular activities. Their responsibilities may include the following:

  • Assigning student housing
  • Overseeing residential facility maintenance
  • Selecting and training residential advisers
  • Developing and supporting extracurricular student programs
  • Scheduling events, such as athletic events or other recreational activities

Student affairs directors earned a median salary of $77,000 per year as of July 2021, according to PayScale.

College administrators can work in a variety of other positions. These college administrator job descriptions can also include serving as a director of public relations. Other administrators may work in the registrar’s office, where they set class schedules, manage student registration for classes, and supervise commencement ceremonies.

How to Become a College Administrator

Understanding how to become a college administrator typically entails obtaining an advanced education and work experience, although requirements may vary based on the position and location. These experiences can help administrators develop the knowledge and practical skills to achieve success.

Education

Most postsecondary education administration positions require a master’s degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Degrees in social work, student counseling, or marketing are common among college administrators.

Certain administrative positions, such as a provost or dean, may require a doctorate degree in education or a Ph.D. Some administrators may begin their career as a professor before moving into an administrative role.

Experience

Employers often seek candidates with work experience in a college administrative setting, according to the BLS, although experience requirements may vary. Students may be able to work as an intern in one of their school’s administrative offices, such as admissions or student activities, while pursuing a degree. Experience in the registrar’s office or as a resident assistant can also be valuable for becoming a college administrator.

Skills

Education and work experience may help job candidates develop the skills that may lead them to become college administrators. These include:

  • Technological skills: Administrators need to be proficient with computers so they can manage student records and school data. They should also be comfortable with the virtual technology their institution deploys to support a blended learning environment.
  • Communication skills: Relationship-building can be a critical aspect of an administrator’s job. They should be able to effectively communicate with colleagues, students, and parents.
  • Organizational skills: College administrators should be highly organized so they can manage records, prioritize tasks, and coordinate with the rest of their staff.
  • Leadership skills: Administrators should be strong leaders. They can be responsible for supervising and guiding entire teams and departments, including office staff and faculty, to ensure their institution’s success.

College Administrator Salary and Job Outlook

Due to the complex and comprehensive nature of their job, college administrator salaries are generally competitive. According to the BLS, postsecondary education administrators earned a median annual wage of $97,500 in 2020. Many colleges and universities also allow full-time employees, including administrators, to attend classes at the institution for free or at a discount. This is an added bonus to the college administrator’s salary.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects the employment of postsecondary education administrators will grow by 4% between 2019 and 2029, adding an additional 7,100 jobs during this time.

The job market for college administrators will largely depend on enrollment numbers at higher education institutions. As more people enroll in these institutions, more administrators may be needed to manage the needs of their student populations, from processing admission applications to making housing assignments and beyond.

In addition to being impacted by student enrollment numbers, the employment growth of administrators at publicly funded colleges and universities will be tied to state and local government budgets. Budget surpluses may lead postsecondary institutions to hire more employees, including administrators.

Prepare to Advance Your Career in Academia

College administrators are responsible for leading their institutions through change and ensuring they function efficiently. Additionally, colleges and universities are relying on administrators even more to help them transition to — and successfully operate — an increasingly hybrid learning model.

If you are interested in a career in higher education administration, Maryville University’s online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership program could be a great step toward achieving your goals.

Courses such as Leading in a Complex Environment are designed to help you develop the skills to navigate key policy and legal issues in higher education, while the course in Strategic Change and Innovation is structured to equip you with the tools to guide your institution into the future.

Be brave. Explore the program and discover how it could help you begin a successful career as a college administrator.

Recommended Reading

Careers in Higher Education

Empowering Women in Higher Education Leadership

A Day in the Life of a College Administrator

Sources

Deloitte, “The Hybrid Campus”

EdTech, “4 Key Blended Learning Engagement Challenges and How to Overcome Them”

EdTech, “Making Hybrid Learning Happen in Higher Ed”

National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Facts: Distance Learning

PayScale, Admissions Director Salary

PayScale, Director of Student Affairs Salary

PayScale, Financial Aid Director Salary

PayScale, Provost Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Education Administrators