What Does a Higher-Education Administrator Do?

Higher-education administrators are responsible for overseeing college or university departments, faculty, staff, programs of study, curricula, budgets, facilities, and more. While they go by many titles—dean, director, chair—all work to direct and facilitate the daily operations of an educational institution, provide students with the best educational experience possible, and influence the institution’s offerings and growth.

Academic Affairs

Academic administrators are responsible for overseeing aspects of teaching and learning on campus. They hire and evaluate faculty; guide the development of majors, minors, and other programming; secure resources to support instruction; and facilitate some visiting artists and academic campus events. They also seek to engage professionals outside of the university, creating and maintaining networks that yield opportunities for students before and after graduation.

Student Affairs

Offices of student affairs are responsible for almost every aspect of a student's college or university experience outside of the classroom. These administrators ensure that students are properly housed, support students' access to physical and mental health resources, and provide career and academic counseling services. They also typically oversee student orientation, on- and off-campus events programming, and student clubs and organizations.

Other Administrative Offices

In addition to the above-mentioned offices, which attempt to directly affect the educational experiences of students, there are a number of administrative staff departments that contribute to the life of a higher-education institution. These include admissions, alumni relations, institutional advancement, business, financial aid, human resources, communications, and more.

Higher-Education Administrator at a Glance

Career Path

There's far more than a single path to becoming a higher-education administrator. Some begin their careers while still undergraduates or immediately after graduating by interning or doing student work with administrative departments at their own institution. Others pursue their own artistic goals, become well-respected in their fields, work in areas such as community organization, event or concert production, or teaching, and then use their diverse skills and experiences to transition into higher-education administration.

As administrators move up the ladder, their level of responsibility grows exponentially. Senior academic administrators, in particular, are entrusted with broadly shaping the institution's educational approach—simultaneously its main product and its identity. As a result, the requirements for senior positions are stringent, often including at least ten years of career experience, a master's degree at minimum, and—more often than not—a doctorate as well.

Finding Work

Undergraduate students with an interest in academic administration should start building their resumes early by seeking out internships and opportunities at their own institution. Recent graduates are advised to look for work in education or a related field first, or to begin working on their master's degree. For mid-career professionals, LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, and similar websites are excellent resources for finding jobs in higher education. 

Professional Skills
  • Written communication
  • Departmental planning
  • Personnel management
  • Budgeting
  • Record-keeping
  • Microsoft Office
  • Google apps
  • Leadership
  • Collaboration
  • Networking
Interpersonal Skills

Institutions of higher education function only through the participation of a diverse group of administrators, faculty, and other staff, all of whom have their own goals to pursue. That's why teamwork, communication skills, and the ability to compromise are critical to succeeding in this field. Equally important is passion for the values of higher education and a genuine desire to improve the experiences of students.

Work Life

A higher-education administrator might work a regular nine-to-five schedule and spend almost every day in the office, or have an irregular itinerary complicated by travel, performance, or teaching. For most, a large portion of each day is spent participating in (and sometimes leading) intra- and interdepartmental meetings.

Some higher-education administrators have reduced hours in the summer, while others maintain steady hours throughout the year. Perks of the career include university affiliation, a chance to help and work alongside students, and an opportunity to shape the institution for years to come.