Career Guide to Becoming an Education Administrator

Education administrators provide leadership in a variety of schools, preschools, day care centers, colleges, and universities. Education administrators help run the educational institution and manage the staff of teachers and support employees.

In this career guide, you will learn about a career as an educational administrator.

  • Many jobs require a master’s or doctoral degree and experience in a related occupation, such as teaching or admissions counseling.
  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills are essential because much of an administrator’s job involves working and collaborating with others.
  • Excellent opportunities are expected for most jobs.

Working As an Education Administrator

Successful operation of an educational institution requires competent administrators. Education administrators provide instructional leadership and manage the day-to-day activities in schools, preschools, day care centers, and colleges and universities. They also direct the educational programs of businesses, correctional institutions, museums, and job training and community service organizations.

Education administrators set educational standards and goals and establish the policies and procedures required to achieve them. They also supervise managers, support staff, teachers, counselors, librarians, coaches, and other employees. They develop academic programs, monitor students’ educational progress, train and motivate teachers and other staff, manage career counseling and other student services, administer recordkeeping, prepare budgets, and perform many other duties. They also handle relations with parents, prospective and current students, employers, and the community. In a smaller organization such as a small day care center, one administrator may handle all these functions. In universities or large school systems, responsibilities are divided among many administrators, each with a specific function.

Principals

Educational administrators who manage elementary, middle, and secondary schools are called principals. They set the academic tone and work actively with teachers to develop and maintain high curriculum standards, formulate mission statements, and establish performance goals and objectives. Principals confer with staff to advise, explain, or answer procedural questions. They hire and evaluate teachers and other staff. They visit classrooms, observe teaching methods, review instructional objectives, and examine learning materials. Principals must use clear, objective guidelines for teacher appraisals, because principals’ pay often is based on performance ratings.

Principals also meet with other administrators and students, parents, and representatives of community organizations. Decision making authority increasingly has shifted from school district central offices to individual schools. School principals have greater flexibility in setting school policies and goals, but when making administrative decisions, they must pay attention to the concerns of parents, teachers, and other members of the community.

Principals also are responsible for preparing budgets and reports on various subjects, such as finances, attendance and student performance. As school budgets become tighter, many principals have become more involved in public relations and fundraising to secure financial support for their schools from local businesses and the community.

Principals ensure that students meet national, State, and local academic standards. Many principals develop partnerships with local businesses and school-to-work transition programs for students. Principals must be sensitive to the needs of a rising number of non-English-speaking students and a culturally diverse student body. In some areas, growing enrollments are a cause for concern, because they lead to overcrowding at many schools. When addressing problems of inadequate resources, administrators serve as advocates for the building of new schools or the repair of existing ones. During the summer months, principals are responsible for planning for the upcoming year, overseeing summer school, participating in workshops for teachers and administrators, supervising building repairs and improvements, and working to make sure that the school has adequate staff for the upcoming school year.

Schools continue to be involved with students’ emotional welfare as well as their academic achievement. As a result, principals face responsibilities outside of academics. For example, many schools have a large number of students from single-parent families, families in which both parents work outside the home or students who are teenage parents. To support these students and their families, some schools have established before- and after-school child care programs or family resource centers, which also may offer parenting classes and social service referrals. With the help of community organizations, some principals have established programs to combat increases in crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases among students.

Assistant Principals

Assistant principals aid the principal in the overall administration of the school. Some assistant principals hold the position for only a few years, during which time they prepare for advancement to principal; others are assistant principals throughout their careers. They are primarily responsible for scheduling student classes and ordering textbooks and supplies. They also coordinate transportation, custodial, cafeteria, and other support services. They usually handle student discipline and attendance problems, social and recreational programs, and matters of health and safety. In addition, they may counsel students on personal, educational, or vocational matters. With the advent of site-based management, assistant principals play a greater role in academic planning by helping to develop new curricula, evaluating teachers, and dealing with school-community relations—responsibilities previously assumed solely by the principal. The number of assistant principals that a school employs may vary with the number of students.

Administrators

Administrators in school district central offices oversee public schools under their jurisdiction. This group of administrators includes those who direct subject-area programs such as English, music, vocational education, special education, and mathematics. They supervise instructional coordinators and curriculum specialists and work with them to evaluate curricula and teaching techniques and to develop programs and strategies to improve them. Some administrators may oversee career counseling programs. Others may administer testing that measures students’ abilities and helps to place them in appropriate classes. Some may direct programs such as school psychology, athletics, curriculum and instruction, and professional development. With site-based management, administrators have transferred the primary responsibility for many of these programs to the principals, assistant principals, teachers, instructional coordinators, and other staff in the schools.

Preschool or Child Care Director

In preschools and child care centers, which are usually much smaller than other educational institutions, the director or supervisor of the school or center often serves as the sole administrator. The director’s or supervisor’s job is similar to that of other school administrators in that he or she oversees the school’s daily activities and operation, hires and develops staff, and ensures that the school meets required regulations and educational standards.

College Education Administrators

In colleges and universities, provosts, also known as chief academic officers, assist presidents, make faculty appointments and tenure decisions, develop budgets, and establish academic policies and programs. With the assistance of academic deans and deans of faculty, provosts also direct and coordinate the activities of deans of individual colleges and chairpersons of academic departments. Fundraising is the chief responsibility of the director of development and also is becoming an essential part of the job for all administrators.

College or university department heads or chairpersons are in charge of departments that specialize in particular fields of study, such as English, biological science, or mathematics. In addition to teaching, they coordinate schedules of classes and teaching assignments; propose budgets; recruit, interview, and hire applicants for teaching positions; evaluate faculty members; encourage faculty development; serve on committees; and perform other administrative duties. In overseeing their departments, chairpersons must consider and balance the concerns of faculty, administrators, and students.

Higher education administrators also direct and coordinate the provision of student services. Vice presidents of student affairs or student life, deans of students, and directors of student services may direct and coordinate admissions, foreign student services, health and counseling services, career services, financial aid, and housing and residential life, as well as social, recreational, and related programs. In small colleges, they may counsel students. In larger colleges and universities, separate administrators may handle each of these services. Registrars are custodians of students’ records. They register students, record grades, prepare student transcripts, evaluate academic records, assess and collect tuition and fees, plan and implement commencement exercises, oversee the preparation of college catalogs and schedules of classes, and analyze enrollment and demographic statistics. Directors of admissions manage the process of recruiting, evaluating, and admitting students, and work closely with financial aid directors, who oversee scholarship, fellowship, and loan programs. Registrars and admissions officers at most institutions need computer skills because they use electronic student information systems. For example, for those whose institutions present college catalogs, schedules, and other information on the Internet, knowledge of online resources, imaging, and other computer skills is important. Athletic directors plan and direct intramural and intercollegiate athletic activities, overseeing the publicity for athletic events, preparing budgets, and supervising coaches. Other increasingly important administrators direct public relations, distance learning, and technology.

Work environment. Education administrators hold leadership positions with significant responsibility. Most find working with students extremely rewarding, but as the responsibilities of administrators have increased in recent years, so has the stress. Coordinating and interacting with faculty, parents, students, community members, business leaders, and State and local policymakers can be fast paced and stimulating, but also stressful and demanding. Principals and assistant principals, whose duties include disciplining students, may find working with difficult students challenging. They also are increasingly being held accountable for their schools meeting State and Federal guidelines for student performance and teacher qualifications.

About 35 percent of education administrators worked more than 40 hours a week in 2008; they often supervise school activities at night and on weekends. Most administrators work year round, although some work only during the academic year.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most education administrators begin their careers as teachers and prepare for advancement into education administration by completing a master’s or doctoral degree. Because of the diversity of duties and levels of responsibility, educational backgrounds and experience vary considerably among these workers.

Education and training. Principals, assistant principals, central office administrators, academic deans, and preschool directors usually have held teaching positions before moving into administration. Some teachers move directly into principal positions; others first become assistant principals or gain experience in other administrative jobs at either the school or district level in positions such as department head, curriculum specialist, or subject matter advisor.

In most public schools, principals, assistant principals, and school district administrators need a master’s degree in education administration or educational leadership. Some principals and central office administrators have a doctorate or specialized degree in education administration. In private schools, some principals and assistant principals hold only a bachelor’s degree, but the majority of principals have a master’s or doctoral degree.

Educational requirements for administrators of preschools and child care centers vary with the setting of the program and the State of employment. Administrators who oversee preschool programs in public schools often are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Child care directors who supervise private programs typically are not required to have a degree; however, most States require a preschool education credential, which often includes some postsecondary coursework.

College and university academic deans and chairpersons usually advance from professorships in their departments, for which they need a master’s or doctoral degree; further education is not typically necessary. Admissions, student affairs, and financial aid directors and registrars sometimes start in related staff jobs with bachelor’s degrees—any field usually is acceptable—and obtain advanced degrees in college student affairs, counseling, or higher education administration. A Ph.D. or Ed.D. usually is necessary for top student affairs positions. Computer literacy and a background in accounting or statistics may be assets in admissions, records, and financial work.

Advanced degrees in higher education administration, educational leadership, and college student affairs are offered in many colleges and universities. Education administration degree programs include courses in school leadership, school law, school finance and budgeting, curriculum development and evaluation, research design and data analysis, community relations, politics in education, and counseling. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) accredit programs designed for elementary and secondary school administrators. Although completion of an accredited program is not required, it may assist in fulfilling licensure requirements.

Licensure and certification. Most States require principals to be licensed as school administrators. License requirements vary by State, but nearly all States require either a master’s degree or some other graduate-level training. Some States also require candidates for licensure to pass a test. On-the-job training, often with a mentor, is increasingly required or recommended for new school leaders. Some States require administrators to take continuing education courses to keep their license, thus ensuring that administrators have the most up-to-date skills. The number and types of courses required to maintain licensure vary by State. Principals in private schools are not subject to State licensure requirements.

Nearly all States require child care and preschool center directors to be licensed. Licensing usually requires a number of years of experience or hours of coursework or both. Sometimes, it requires a college degree. Often, directors also are required to earn a general preschool education credential, such as the Child Development Associate credential (CDA) sponsored by the Council for Professional Recognition, or some other credential designed specifically for directors. One credential designed specifically for directors is the National Administration Credential, offered by the National Child Care Association. The credential requires experience and training in child care center management.

There usually are no licensing requirements for administrators at postsecondary institutions.

Other qualifications. To be considered for education administrator positions, workers must first prove themselves in their current jobs. In evaluating candidates, supervisors look for leadership, determination, confidence, innovativeness, and motivation. The ability to make sound decisions and to organize and coordinate work efficiently is essential. Because much of an administrator’s job involves interacting with others, a person in such a position must have strong interpersonal skills and be an effective communicator and motivator. Knowledge of leadership principles and practices, gained through work experience and formal education, is important. A familiarity with computer technology is a necessity for many of these workers as computers are used to perform their basic job duties and they may be responsible for coordinating technical resources for students, teachers, and classrooms.

Advancement. Education administrators advance through promotion to higher level administrative positions or by transferring to comparable positions at larger schools or systems. They also may become superintendents of school systems or presidents of educational institutions.

Employment as an Education Administrator

Education administrators held about 445,400 jobs in 2008. Of these, about 58,900 were held by preschool or child care administrators, about 230,600 by elementary or secondary school administrators, and 124,600 by postsecondary administrators. The great majority—more than 81 percent—worked in public or private educational institutions. Most of the remainder worked in child day care centers.

Job Outlook

Employment is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations. Job opportunities should be excellent due to a large number of expected retirements and fewer applicants for some positions.

Employment change. Employment of education administrators is expected to grow by about 8 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Expected growth is primarily the result of growth in enrollments of school-aged children. Enrollment of students in elementary and secondary schools is expected to grow relatively slowly over the next decade, limiting the growth of principals and other administrators in these schools. However, the number of administrative positions will continue to increase as more administrative responsibilities are placed on individual schools, particularly with regard to monitoring student achievement. Preschool and child care center administrators are expected to experience substantial growth because of increasing enrollments in formal child care programs as fewer young children are cared for in private homes. In addition, as more States implement or expand public preschool programs, more preschool directors will be needed.

The number of students at the postsecondary level is projected to grow more rapidly than other student populations. Many of these schools cater to working adults who might not ordinarily participate in postsecondary education. Such schools allow students to earn a degree, receive job-specific training, or update their skills in a convenient manner, such as through part-time programs or distance learning. As the number of these schools continues to grow, more administrators will be needed to oversee them.

Job prospects. Job opportunities should be excellent due to a large number of expected retirements and fewer applicants for some positions. Principals and assistant principals should have excellent job prospects because a sharp increase in responsibilities in recent years has made the job more stressful and has discouraged some teachers from taking positions in administration. Principals are now being held more accountable for the performance of students and teachers, while at the same time they are required to adhere to a growing number of government regulations. In addition, overcrowded classrooms, safety issues, budgetary concerns, and teacher shortages in some areas are creating additional stress for administrators. Many teachers feel that the increase in pay for becoming an administrator is not high enough to compensate for the greater responsibilities.

Opportunities may vary by region of the country. Enrollments are expected to increase the fastest in the West and South, where the population is growing faster, and to decline or remain stable in the Northeast and the Midwest. School administrators also are in greater demand in rural and urban areas, where pay is generally lower than in the suburbs.

Fewer applicants are expected for nonacademic administrative jobs, such as director of admissions or director of student affairs. Furthermore, many people are discouraged from seeking administrator jobs by the requirement that they have a master’s or doctoral degree in education administration—as well as by the opportunity to earn higher salaries in other occupations.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Education administrators 11-9030 445,400 482,500 37,000 8
Education administrators, preschool and child care center/program 11-9031 58,900 65,800 6,900 12
Education administrators, elementary and secondary school 11-9032 230,600 250,400 19,800 9
Education administrators, postsecondary 11-9033 124,600 127,400 2,800 2
Education administrators, all other 11-9039 31,400 38,900 7,500 24
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Education Administrators

In May 2008, preschool and child care program administrators had median annual wages of $39,940. The middle 50 percent earned between $31,290 and $54,680. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,910 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $77,150.

In May 2008, elementary and secondary school administrators had median annual wages of $83,880. The middle 50 percent earned between $68,360 and $102,830. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $55,580 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $124,250.

In May 2008, postsecondary school administrators had median annual wages of $80,670. The middle 50 percent earned between $58,940 and $113,860. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,050 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $160,500.

Salaries of education administrators depend on several factors, including the location and enrollment level of the school or school district.

According to a survey of public schools conducted by Educational Research Service, average salaries for principals and assistant principals in the 2007-2008 school year were as follows:

Principals:
Senior high school $97,486
Jr. high/middle school 91,334
Elementary school 85,907
Assistant principals:
Senior high school 79,391
Jr. high/middle school 76,053
Elementary school 71,192

According to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, median annual salaries for selected administrators in higher education during the 2008-2009 school year were as follows:

Chief academic officer $158,000
Academic deans:
Business 150,000
Arts and sciences 134,632
Graduate programs 130,000
Education 128,550
Nursing 125,400
Health-related professions 120,980
Continuing education 109,925
Occupational studies/vocational education 92,622
Other administrators:
Chief development officer 141,712
Dean of students 88,280
Director, student financial aid 74,261
Registrar 71,764
Director, student activities 54,931

Benefits for education administrators are generally very good. Many get 4 or 5 weeks of vacation every year and have generous health and pension packages. Many colleges and universities offer free tuition to employees and their families.

Education administrators run educational institutions. In this free career guide, you learned how to become a successful educational administrator.

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