College Administrator

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College administrators coordinate and oversee programs such as admissions and financial aid in public and private colleges and universities. They frequently work with teams of people to develop and manage student services. Administrators also oversee specific academic divisions of colleges and universities. Approximately 132,000 college administrators are employed in the United States.


Before the Civil War, most U.S. colleges and universities managed their administration with a president, a treasurer, and a part-time librarian. Members of the faculty often were responsible for the administrative tasks of the day, and there was no uniformity in college admissions requirements.

By 1860, the average number of administrative officers in U.S. colleges was still only four. However, as the job of running an institution expanded in scope in response to ever-increasing student enrollment, the responsibilities of administration began to splinter. After creating positions for registrar, secretary of faculty, chief business officer, and a number of departmental deans, most schools next hired a director of admissions to oversee the application and acceptance of students. In addition, several eastern schools and a few prominent college presidents, Charles Eliot of Harvard and Nicholas Butler of Columbia among them, saw the need to establish organizations whose purpose would be to put an end to the chaos. The College Entrance Examination Board was formed to create standardized college entrance requirements. By 1910, there were 25 leading eastern colleges using the Board’s exams. Today, most colleges require that a student submit standardized test scores, such as the SAT or ACT, when applying.

After World War II, returning veterans entered America’s colleges and universities by the thousands. With this great influx of students, college administrators were needed to better organize the university system. During this time, financial aid administration also became a major program. Today, as the costs of a college education continue to rise dramatically, college financial aid administrators are needed to help students and parents find loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.

The job

A college administrator’s work is demanding and diverse. An administrator is responsible for a wide range of tasks in areas such as counseling services, admissions, alumni affairs, financial aid, academics, and business. The following are some of the different types of college administrators, but keep in mind that this is only a partial list. It takes many administrators in many different departments to run a college.

Many college and university administrators are known as deans. Deans are the administrative heads of specific divisions or groups within the university, and are in charge of overseeing the activities and policies of that division. One type of dean is an academic dean. Academic deans are concerned with such issues as the requirements for a major, the courses offered, and the faculty hired within a specific academic department or division. The field of academic dean includes such titles as dean of the college of humanities, dean of social and behavioral sciences, and dean of the graduate school, just to name a few. The dean of students is responsible for the student affairs program, often including such areas as student housing, organizations, clubs, and activities.

Registrars prepare class schedules and final exam schedules. They maintain computer records of student data, such as grades and degree requirements. They prepare school catalogs and student handbooks. Associate registrars assist in running the school registrar’s office.

Recruiters visit high school campuses and college fairs to provide information about their school and to interest students in applying for admission. They develop relationships with high school administrators and arrange to meet with counselors, students, and parents.

Financial aid administrators direct the scholarship, grant, and loan programs that provide financial assistance to students and help them meet the costs of tuition, fees, books, and other living expenses. The administrator keeps students informed of the financial assistance available to them and helps answer student and parent questions and concerns. At smaller colleges, a single person such as the financial aid officer, might do this work. At larger colleges and universities, the staff might be bigger, and the financial aid officer will head a department and direct the activities of financial aid counselors, who handle most of the personal contact with students.

Other college administrators include college admissions counselors, who review records, interview prospective students, and process applications for admission. Alumni directors oversee the alumni associations of colleges and universities. An alumni director maintains relationships with the graduates of the college primarily for fund-raising purposes.

Such jobs as university president, vice president, and provost are among the highest-ranking college and university administrative positions. Generally the president and vice president act as high-level managers, overseeing the rest of a college’s administration. They handle business concerns, press relations, public image, and community involvement, and they listen to faculty and administration concerns, often casting the final vote on issues such as compensation, advancement, and tenure. At most schools, the provost is in charge of the many collegiate deans. Working through the authority of the deans, the provost manages the college faculty. The provost also oversees budgets, the academic schedule, event planning, and participates in faculty hiring and promotion decisions.


High School

A good, well-rounded education is important for anyone pursuing some of the top administrative positions. To prepare for a job in college administration, take accounting and math courses, as you may be dealing with financial records and student statistics. To be a dean of a college, you must have good communication skills, so you should take courses in English literature and composition. Also, speech courses are important, as you’ll be required to give presentations and represent your department at meetings and conferences. Follow your guidance counselor’s college preparatory plan, which will likely include courses in science, economics, foreign language, history, and sociology.

Postsecondary Training Education requirements for jobs in college administration depend on the size of the school and the job position. Some assistant positions may not require anything more than a few years of experience in an office. For most jobs in college administration, however, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree. For the top administrative positions, you will need a master’s or a doctorate. A bachelor’s degree in any field is usually acceptable for pursuing this career. After you have received your bachelor’s, you may choose to pursue a master’s in student personnel, administration, or subjects such as economics, psychology, and sociology. Other important studies include education, counseling, information processing, business, and finance. In order to become a college dean, you will need a doctoral degree and many years of experience with a college or university. Your degree may be in your area of study or in college administration.

Other Requirements As a college administrator, you should be very organized and able to manage a busy office of assistants. Some offices require more organization than others; for example, a financial aid office handles the records and aid disbursement for the entire student body and requires a director with an eye for efficiency and the ability to keep track of all the various sources of student funding. As a dean, however, you will work in a smaller office, concentrating more on issues concerning faculty and committees. You will also rely on your diplomatic skills for maintaining an efficient and successful department. People skills are valuable for college deans, as you will be representing your department both within the university and at national conferences.

Whatever the administrative position, it is important to have patience and tact to handle a wide range of personalities as well as an emotional steadiness when confronted with unusual and unexpected situations.


To learn something about what the job of administrator entails, talk to your high school principal and superintendent. Also, interview administrators at colleges and universities. Many of their office phone numbers are listed in college directories. The email addresses of the administrators of many different departments, from deans to registrars, are often published on college Web sites. You should also discuss the career with the college recruiters who visit your high school. Also, familiarize yourself with all the various aspects of running a college and university by looking at college student handbooks and course catalogs. Most handbooks list all the offices and administrators and how they assist students and faculty.


Approximately 132,000 college administrators are employed in the United States. Administrators are needed all across the country to run colleges and universities. Job opportunities exist at public and private institutions, community colleges, and universities both large and small. In a smaller college, an administrator may run more than one department. There are more job openings for administrators in universities serving large student bodies.

Starting out

There are several different types of entry-level positions available in the typical college administrative office. If you can gain part-time work or an internship in admissions or another office while you are still in school, you will have a great advantage when seeking work in this field after graduation. Any other experience in an administrative or managerial position, which involves working with people or with computerized data, is also helpful. Entry-level positions often involve filing, data processing, and updating records or charts. You might also move into a position as an administrator after working as a college professor. Deans in colleges and universities have usually worked many years as tenured professors.

The department of human resources in most colleges and universities maintains a listing of job openings at the institution and will often advertise the positions nationally. The Chronicle of Higher Education (http://www. is a newspaper with national job listings. The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) also maintains a job list at its Web site,


Entry-level positions, which usually require only a bachelor’s degree, include admissions counselors, who advise students regarding admissions requirements and decisions, and evaluators, who check high school transcripts and college transfer records to determine whether applying students may be admitted. Administrative assistants are hired for the offices of registrars, financial aid departments, and deans.

Advancement from any of these positions will depend on the manner in which an office is organized as well as how large it is. One may move up to assistant director or associate director, or, in a larger office, into any specialized divisions such as minority admissions, financial aid counseling, or disabled student services. Advancement also may come through transferring to other departments, schools, or systems.

Workshops and seminars are available through professional associations for those interested in staying informed and becoming more knowledgeable in the field, but it is highly unlikely that an office employee will gain the top administrative level without a graduate degree.


Salaries for college administrators vary widely among two-year and four-year colleges and among public and private institutions, but they are generally comparable to those of college faculty. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median salary for education administrators was $69,400. The lowest paid 10 percent of administrators earned $38,910 per year, while the highest paid made $128,180 annually.

According to findings by the CUPA-HR, the following academic deans had these median annual salaries for 2005– 06: dean of business, $127,204; dean of graduate programs, $115,000; dean of arts and sciences, $117,625; and dean of continuing education, $92,981. The CUPA-HR also reports the median annual salary for directors of admissions and registrars as $68,108, for dean of students as $78,963, and for director of student activities as $48,451.

According to a study done by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the average pay for private liberal arts college presidents was $243,541 in 2004. Public-university presidents had median annual pay of $360,000 in 2005. Though college presidents can earn high salaries, they are often not as high as the earnings of other top administrators and even some college coaches. For example, competition can drive up the pay for highly desired medical specialists, economics educators, or football coaches.

Most colleges and universities provide excellent benefits packages including health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, and tuition remission. Higher-level administrators such as presidents, deans, and provosts often receive such bonuses as access to special university clubs, tickets to sporting events, expense accounts for entertaining university guests, and other privileges.

Work environment

College and universities are usually pleasant places to be employed. Offices are often spacious and comfortable, and the campus may be a scenic, relaxing work setting.

Employment in most administrative positions is usually on a 12-month basis. Many of the positions, such as admissions director, financial aid counselor, and dean of students, require a great deal of direct contact with students, and so working hours may vary according to student needs. It is not unusual for college administrators to work long hours during peak enrollment periods, such as the beginning of each quarter or semester. During these periods, the office can be fast paced and stressful as administrators work to assist as many students as possible. Directors are sometimes required to work evenings and weekends to provide broader student access to administrative services. In addition, administrators are sometimes required to travel to other colleges, career fairs, high schools, and professional conferences to provide information about the school for which they work.


The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that overall employment for education administrators will grow about as fast as the average through 2014. College funding is down, but many administrators are expected to retire soon. In addition, enrollment is expected to increase. Competition for prestigious positions as heads of faculty and deans will be stiff. Many faculty at institutions of higher learning have the educational and experience requirements for these jobs. Candidates may face less competition for positions in nonacademic areas, such as admissions or fund-raising. Those who are already working within a department seeking an administrator and those willing to relocate will have the best chances of getting administrative positions.

For more information

For information on publications and membership, contact

American Association of Collegiate Registrars and

Admissions Officers

One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 520

Washington, DC 20036-1171

For information about publications, current legislation, and membership, contact

American Association of University


Rhode Island College

Roberts Hall 407

Providence, RI 02908-1991

Tel: 401-456-2808

For job listings and information about membership, contact

College and University Professional Association

for Human Resources

Tyson Place

2607 Kingston Pike, Suite 250

Knoxville, TN 37919-3331

Tel: 865-637-7673

For information on undergraduate fellowships, contact

NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher


1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 418

Washington, DC 20009-5737

Tel: 202-265-7500


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