12 Top Careers in Higher Education Administration

The higher education administration field is growing rapidly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With more than 7,000 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States, more than 13,000 jobs will need to be filled in higher education through the year 2028. As a result, institutions are scrambling to fill advanced positions with qualified candidates who have the foundation to understand their structure, governance, and operation.

Most leadership roles within higher education administration require at least a master’s degree, according to the BLS. This includes roles within student affairs, alumni relations, financial aid, marketing, consulting, accreditation agencies, and more. 

Read on to explore what you can do with a master’s degree in higher education administration, as well as some of the top careers and skills needed to succeed in this field.

What Can You Do with a Master’s in Higher Education Administration (MEd)?

There are many reasons one might decide to earn a master’s degree in higher education administration. Here are some of the more common motivations for pursuing an MEd:

1. Facilitate a Career Change

For some individuals, earning a master’s degree can help ease the transition into a new career. Tyrone Brown, now the access program director at Bottom Line—a nonprofit that helps low-income and first-generation students get to and through college—believed that without completing his MEd in Higher Education Administration, he wouldn’t have been selected for the area coordinator role in residential life and housing at a small liberal arts institution.

Before pursuing a degree in higher education administration, Brown worked in the financial industry. After reflecting on his career trajectory, he discovered his passion for supporting students and decided to earn a graduate degree in higher education administration. His present position is an example of how graduates can pursue a career at a college, university, education consulting firm, or nonprofit organization.

2. Further Your Career

In addition to a career change, the MEd in Higher Education Administration often plays an integral role in career advancement. Dr. Bryan Patterson, an assistant teaching professor in Northeastern’s Graduate School of Education, says his MEd has opened many doors throughout his career.

Before completing his master’s degree, Dr. Patterson served as an entry-level administrator at a pre-collegiate program. After degree completion, Dr. Patterson was offered an assistant director in career counseling and development position at a large public research university.

“The degree launched my professional career,” Patterson says. “Without [it], the assistant director role would not have been offered to me.”

3. Prepare for a Doctoral Program

While some professionals obtain an MEd for career advancement, others complete the degree in preparation for a doctoral program, such as a Doctor of Education (EdD). 

Higher education is unique in that it requires its members to have a solid grasp and understanding of theory, as well as the ability to apply that theory to everyday practice. That’s why Northeastern offers courses such as “Culture, Equity, Power, and Influence” and “Education Law, Policy, and Finance,” where students can explore diversity, inclusion, and the legal aspects of the field. Not only are students reading course materials on these topics, but they’re also engaging with each other on how to apply theory to practice through various assignments, including action plans and case studies.

No matter their reason for pursuing it, an MEd opens doors for learners’ next career move while simultaneously preparing them for continued career success. Through a focus on theory and practice, students learn how to create change within the landscape of higher education.</span

Top Careers in Higher Education Administration

If your goal is to make a career change or further your current career, there is no shortage of opportunities available to those who have earned an MEd. Here’s a look at the top careers in higher education administration to consider.:

1. Provost: $143,783 per year

A provost—also known as a “vice president” depending on the institution—typically serves as the second in command to the president of a college or university. Provosts help establish their school’s academic vision and work closely with deans and department heads to accomplish goals that will achieve the overarching mission. They also often oversee daily operations, such as allocating financial and human resources and hiring and retaining a diverse faculty. A master’s degree or higher is typically required for this role.

2. Chief Academic Officer: $135,569 per year

Chief academic officers assess a school’s academic programs and work to ensure they meet state and federal policies. They typically also help hire and evaluate faculty and staff, as well as develop and implement new curricula and professional development initiatives. Chief academic officers typically hold a master’s degree, although a doctoral degree—such as an EdD—may sometimes be required.

3. Vice President of Enrollment Management: $137,000 per year

Vice presidents of enrollment management create and implement strategies to attract, enroll, and retain students. They aim to grow the number of students who apply, improve yield, and help their institution meet its enrollment goals. These professionals typically work with a number of other institutional departments—including financial aid, admissions, and registration—to ensure that their recruitment strategies are effective.

4. Dean of Admissions: $91,830 per year

These professionals are responsible for managing the admissions department, which often oversees the institution’s student recruitment and communication efforts. The dean of admission’s goal is to yield high-talent, top-performing students.

In addition to the admissions department, deans are typically employed to manage faculty and staff, support research initiatives, help fundraise, and set academic goals in a variety of other departments, as well. These departments tend to vary depending on the school, but might include:

  • Student Affairs: Student affairs often spans a variety of offices, such as diversity and inclusion, residence life, athletics, and student support services. A dean of student affairs will typically develop and assess nonacademic programs aimed at improving campus life and enriching the student experience, as well as handle disciplinary issues and communicate with students and their parents or legal guardians.
  • Research: A dean of research often collaborates with faculty to develop a strategy that supports short- and long-term research initiatives. They also strive to secure research funding, manage the research budget, and work to establish partnerships with industry-leading organizations.
  • Advancement: Otherwise known as “development,” the advancement office—and the dean who manages it—is responsible for raising money for their school from potential donors, which range from alumni and corporations to government policymakers and foundations. They then foster and maintain those donor relationships to guarantee all gifts are being used as initially intended.

5. Director of Student Financial Aid: $85,144 per year

Financial aid directors oversee the financial aid department, which is responsible for offering grants, managing loans, providing payment plans, and determining aid eligibility. These professionals hold regular meetings to discuss the protocol of their institution and any pending financial aid cases. Directors are responsible for making financial aid determinations if their department is unable to come to a conclusion; preparing applications for private, local, state, and federal funding; and proposing and implementing financial aid policies and procedures to ensure compliance.

6. Director of Academic Advising: $75,788 per year

Professionals in this role oversee the advising department, including its daily operations, services, and staff. This department is responsible for advising students on the courses necessary to graduate, on study abroad procedures, and on the overall roadmap of their academic career, says Adriel Hilton, lecturer for the Master of Education in Higher Education Administration program within Northeastern ‘s College of Professional Studies.

Directors of academic advising must understand student development theories and work proactively to address student needs and problems. These directors also work to ensure that their department is equipping students with the tools they need to achieve academic success.

7. Education Consultant: $64,977 per year

Education consultants often work independently and advise students and their parents about higher education opportunities, including which schools align with their interests and any possible options outside of higher education. These professionals may administer exams to match students’ interests to career paths, provide career guidance, assist in the college application process, help prepare college essays, or provide financial aid advice. Education consultants must be up to date on all information related to the college application process.

In addition to working with parents and families, higher education consultants can also work with schools and universities or private organizations.

8. Director of Alumni Relations: $62,692 per year

These directors serve as a liaison between their institution and its graduates. Directors of alumni relations manage a staff that performs a variety of outreach through programming and events— such as class reunions and homecoming weekends—and coordinates these activities with other departments, from the president’s office to campus security. These professionals might also be responsible for developing and executing fundraising initiatives.

9. Director of Career Services: $59,809 per year

Directors of career services manage the overall functions of an institution’s career services office, which works to develop and improve students’ job-seeking skills, place students with prospective employers, build relationships with companies, coordinate job fairs, and run other programs to assist students and alumni with career planning.

“A lot of people want to be directors of career services,” Hilton says. “This job is all about building social capital with companies and helping students to gain employment opportunities.”

10. Athletic Director: $60,048 per year

Careers in athletic administration are popular, Hilton says. Professionals in this field are tasked with ensuring that recruitment, athletes, and teams are compliant with conference rules and regulations. Athletic directors may work at a college or university to coordinate athletic activities, and are responsible for budgeting and funding, marketing, event planning, and liaising with vendors and other employees.

11. Fundraising Officer: $56,853 per year

These professionals coordinate and execute strategic plans and programs to increase an institution’s fundraising capacity. Fundraising officers typically record budget data—including income and expense details—recruit and train volunteers for fundraising events, and communicate with current and potential donors. Depending on the size of the institution, they might work in a department with a lead officer or alone to coordinate all fundraising activities for the organization.

12. Residential Life Coordinator: $34,323 per year

Residential life coordinators ensure the well-being of students in their housing. These professionals create and supervise residential activities and social programs, provide peer mentoring, manage the day-to-day of the residence facilities, respond to emergency situations, mitigate student conflicts, and liaise with the department of student affairs. While the salary for this role is lower than other higher education administration careers, residential life coordinators do receive free room and board as part of their employment, Hilton says.

How to Succeed in Higher Education Administration

Although the specific skill sets needed to excel in higher education administration vary by role, there are a few key ways that an individual can set themselves up to succeed in this field.

1. Develop a Growth Mindset

Higher education laws and policies are constantly evolving, as are the needs of today’s learners. Higher education administration professionals need to stay up-to-date on changing rules and regulations to better support their students and institution.

Jermaine Williams—a lecturer for Northeastern’s MEd Program—explains that those who will be most successful in this industry have a “growth mindset,” as well as a desire to learn about and pursue new challenges and opportunities facing higher education.

“If you want to be in an engaging setting where you have the ability to always learn something new, this [program] might be for you,” he says. “Working in a dynamic environment fuels your mind and always keeps you going.”

2. Become Aware of Culture & Diversity

Part of what makes that environment so dynamic is the diversity among students, faculty, and staff.

“Higher education offers an intellectually stimulating environment that respects intellectual curiosity and cultivates conversation,” Williams says.

Individuals working in higher education administration need to show the same respect and take the time to understand where their colleagues and students are coming from. To be culturally aware means observing your own behaviors, challenging all preconceived assumptions, and understanding others’ boundaries, cultural norms, and views.

3. Embrace Social Justice and Inclusion Work

American colleges and universities are educating more international students than ever before, according to the Institute of International Education. In fact, approximately 1.09 million international students studied in the United States during the 2017-2018 academic year, and that number only continues to grow over time.

For higher education administration professionals whose goal is to support every student and improve their access to education, having experience in—and strong knowledge around—diversity, inclusion, and social justice is essential.

How Pursuing a Master’s Degree Can Help Your Career

For professionals in higher education administration who are looking to advance their careers—or for those interested in breaking into the field—earning a master’s degree in higher education administration can allow you to meet the demand for new skills that employers want, and give you a competitive advantage in the job market.

“The higher education field is growing on an annual basis and continuing to change,” Hilton says. “Colleges and universities are looking for these individuals with this professional experience and academic background.”

What’s more, the typical entry-level education for a postsecondary administrator is a master’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pursuing a graduate education can then help advance your career, while equipping you with the skills and knowledge you need to transform the student experience.