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Question about teaching college with a Masters Degree

  1. Jan 27, 2011 #1
    I seem to get mixed messages when it comes to the requirements one needs to teach at a college. I'm not talking about a research position at university. Like, at the smaller private colleges or something. I've heard that all you need to become a professor at such an institution is usually a Masters. Can anyone confirm or deny this with some degree of certainty?

    I was always under the impression that one needs a PhD to be even an adjunct or assistant professor at any college, but I've been told that I'm wrong. I figured if anyone knew for sure, it'd be someone on here. Thanks in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2011 #2


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    For a community college, usually a master's degree is a minimum qualificaton for a teaching position. The difference is that meeting a "minimum qualification" does not mean that you will be guaranteed a position in a competition. When teaching is the primary function of the job, a PhD does not necessarily trump a candidate with a master's degree, but it does require the MSc to bring more to the table than the degree itself.

    What this means is that if your plan is to finish an MSc and go into teaching at the community college level, you will be competing with PhDs who have the same plan.
  4. Jan 27, 2011 #3

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    If you get a position, it will most likely be at the rank of "Instructor". These positions are lower-paid, less secure, and have less input into the governance of the department and university.
  5. Jan 27, 2011 #4
    Many liberal arts colleges care much more about teaching than research- for those schools a masters would probably be an acceptable credential, however competition is pretty fierce. Expect to spend a few years working as an adjunct, and then an instructor before being able to land interviews. However, the same is true for phds (who often have very little lecturing experience). That being said, you probably will be competing with phds for those jobs.
  6. Jan 28, 2011 #5


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    Even the small liberal arts colleges (I have taught at several) are going to a requirement of a doctorate for tenure (the last one I was at had just added "evidence of research after the dissertation" as a requirement for tenure). If you do get a college teaching job with a master's, they will probably make it clear that you will be expected to persue a "terminal degree" (i.e. Ph.D. for the liberal arts) in order to stay there.
  7. Jan 28, 2011 #6
    They have a Master of Arts in Mathematics at my school. It's designed for someone who wants to each at the high school or junior college level. I'm not sure how much use it would have in industry, though.
  8. Jan 28, 2011 #7


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    Some reasons for that? Some colleges or universities have only Masters and lower degree programs, so the Masters ones at those places are terminal. I guess that is beside the question of, What are the reasons for some liberal arts colleges requiring hired Masters degreed people to attend a PhD program?
  9. Jan 28, 2011 #8
    In my experience, liberal arts colleges, even though they often only offer BA/BS degrees (in the sciences and the liberal arts) still try to get "good rankings" and to have their graduates who desire further education to enter well-ranked Ph.D. programs. Students choose these schools because they want a smaller university and closer interaction with faculty.... and the faculty do usually have research (albeit perhaps small... but at least with a good chance of an undergrad being able to participate in the research -- and in perhaps a more meaningful way than in a larger institution).

    Also... the more time you've spent studying and working in the field, generally the more insight you'll have into the content and application of that content (which hopefully also then translates to being able to make the content both accessible and meaningful to students).

    As a small anecdote: When I was at a AAPT (American Association of Physics Teachers) meeting back in 2006, I met a community college professor (a Ph.D. who'd worked there for many years) who told me they were going to put out a call for a new faculty member, and really hoped (with the falling economy) that they'd get a completed Ph.D. (with some teaching experience). I can only imagine the job market now...

    Also: I knew someone from my undergrad who DID teach at a community college with a MS in Physics (he left the Ph.D. program that he was attending after his master's degree)... but I noticed recently he's moved back to his hometown and is substitute teaching at a high school, and working towards state certification to teach at the MS/HS level. I don't know of anyone who's gotten a "better" education job with an MS except for those that entered industry (working for a publisher that worked on materials, including software, for K-12 education).
  10. Jan 28, 2011 #9
    Thanks to everyone for all the replies.
  11. Jan 28, 2011 #10
    The regional accreditation agencies require that people teaching at any accredited college or university have a masters degree. This is a firm and explicit requirement that they state in their accreditation rules. If you hire instructors without masters degrees, they will pull your accreditation.

    Reference: http://www.sacscoc.org/pdf/081705/faculty credentials.pdf

    There are no formal and explicit rules that I know of that require a professor at any university to have a Ph.D., but there are informal rules and if you don't have a Ph.D. (and a few post-docs) you really have no chance of getting a job. The problem there is often supply and demand. They can hire a masters degree only teacher, but there are so many Ph.D.'s that they don't have to so they won't.

    I do know that community colleges often hire instructors and professors with masters only (i.e. my father), and someone with a masters only but with a lot of political or business experience can get a professorship at a business or poly-sci school. Also law schools will often hire instructor with only a JD (which despite the name is a masters level degree) but not a Doctor of Juridical Science.

    Barack Obama taught constitutional law as a lecturer for twelve years without a research doctorate, and if he wants a faculty position after he retires as President, I don't think too many schools will say no. Dwight Eisenhower was president of Columbia University and he didn't have a doctorate.

    Last edited: Jan 28, 2011
  12. Jan 28, 2011 #11
    Because they can. Also some regional accreditation agencies require a university to have 25% of faculty to have terminal degrees. http://www.sacscoc.org/pdf/2010principlesofacreditation.pdf see item 3.5.4

    If you don't have new faculty get terminal degrees then when the the faculty with those degrees retire then you can run into problems.

    Also one thing that's not obvious when reading these documents is which standards are iron rules and which things are guidelines. My experience is that even though the masters requirement is listed as a guideline, it's a hard rule, and whereas the "principles" are less hard.

    This is for SACS. Other accrediting agencies have different rules and Middle States explicitly states that they do not have any explicit credential requirement....

    http://www.msche.org/publications/Becoming_Accredited_090203.pdf [Broken] (see page 3)

    Middle States has traditionally been the most flexible agency where as WACS has been traditionally the least flexible. University of Phoenix moved to Phoenix from San Jose to because Western states would not accredit them, and because WACS had a extremely strict set of rules, you ended up with a California authorized schools.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  13. Jan 28, 2011 #12
    Thanks, twofish.. Always enlightening.
  14. Jan 28, 2011 #13
    It really depends on institutional priorities. My experience has been that Ph.D.'s are very weakly linked with status in community colleges, which makes sense if you think about it.
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