Industry Overview: Education

Posted by The Editors on December 3, 2012

Although not the sexiest or most lucrative industry to consider, education is certainly one of the fastest and steadily growing sectors in the country. The futurist Alvin Toffler predicted that the "illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." With nearly one in four Americans enrolled in educational institutions, educational services is the second largest industry in the country, employing more than 13 million people.

The job forecast over the next ten years is excellent, due to increased overall enrollment in all educational sectors, and the need for a new supply of teachers to replace the large numbers that are expected to retire in the next decade. Opportunities in education range widely, and include positions as guidance counselors, administrators, school nurses, bus drivers, recruiters, and, of course, teachers.

There are two basic categories of schools in the United States. Public schools receive the bulk of their operating funds from local, state, and federal governments-in other words, from your tax dollars. As a result, these schools-from PS 182 to Penn State-are accountable to the public. Private schools, on the other hand, are not funded by taxes, but by tuition fees and private donations. They're not accountable to the public. Who attends these schools (and how much they pay), who teaches at them (and what they teach), and who runs them are all privately made decisions.

Both public and private schools have a mandate to impart information and skills. At the lowest level, this includes the basic reading, writing, and arithmetic needed to hold a job and read a newspaper. At the highest level, it means postgraduate data and techniques required by specialists, from surgeons to literary critics. And increasingly, it also means training and ongoing education throughout the course of a lifetime.

Beyond schools, there are training and learning departments in virtually every major corporation. Many of these privately run programs fall under the jurisdiction of human resources, but the skills and practices are often similar to those required for a successful career in schools. In fact, many corporations have their own in-house universities (or partnerships with local universities) to provide training specific to their workforce requirements.

Crisis in the Schools
American schools are in worse shape than they've been in many decades. Local and state governments, as well as the federal government, are deep in debt-and, due to tax cuts and a shrunken tax base, have little if any money to spare for public schools, be they K-12 or state colleges or universities. At the same time, many private schools are facing shortfalls due to the decline in value of their endowments during the stock market correction that started in 2000, as well as smaller revenues from new donations.

Meanwhile, costs are skyrocketing. Keeping buildings and grounds-and technologies in the classroom-up to snuff costs institutions of higher education more every year. Expensive technical journals keep college and university library budgets constantly on the rise. Increasing enrollment in undergraduate and master's programs, especially in states with large immigrant populations, like California, means growing faculty, classroom, and technology expenses. And among elementary and secondary schools, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act raises the bar (and most likely the spending it'll take to clear the bar) in terms of students' required academic performance. (Not to mention nudging the focus of K-12 education from teaching kids how to learn to teaching them the facts necessary to pass standardized exams.)

As a result of all this, schools are cutting faculty and other staff; cutting or shrinking academic programs, athletics programs, after-school programs, and the like; taking corporate dollars to fund programs and operations (for instance, big corporations fund professorships, and pharmaceutical companies fund medical schools-and, in each case, academic integrity is threatened at the very least); and, at private K-12 levels as well as colleges and universities, hiking tuitions.

All of this adds up to an industry that offers decreased job security, and possibly decreased job satisfaction, for teachers, professors, and administrators. Indeed, many educational institutions have or will face labor backlash (protests, unionization movements, and worker strikes) because so many in education feel that they are not being paid adequately for the work they're being asked to do.

Education Alternatives
Criticism of American students' low standardized test scores and the sorry financial and physical state of schools in some parts of the United States-especially urban and low-income areas-has led to radical alternatives to traditional public schooling. Although still highly controversial, homeschooling and publicly funded vouchers toward tuition at private schools have been proposed as possible solutions to the endemic problems of public schools, while for-profit schools appears to be an idea whose time has come and passed. Several states have been experimenting with pay-for-performance models, making it easier to fire teachers, and creating new career ladders.

The charter school movement continues to gain steady momentum as a less controversial alternative to the traditional public school model. These schools are publicly funded and affiliated with a district, but operate independently, and are often designed by community leaders, parents, or educational entrepreneurs. While laws vary across the country, charter schools must produce positive academic results to meet the legal requirements of their charter. These schools often offer specialized programs, catering to a specific focus such as science, the arts, or technology.

Supplemental Educational Services
Under NCLB, low-performing schools are required to offer voluntary tutoring programs to their underachieving students. The market for these programs, called supplemental educational services (SES), has become one of the hottest moneymaking propositions that public education has ever seen. Educational services providers are raking in big government bucks-to the tune of 2 billion dollars in 2005-and cashing in on NCLB's policy that schools that fail to improve low test scores will face dire consequences. Many job opportunities abound in this burgeoning arm of education, as the competition for SES dollars heats up.

The Internet
One of the few areas showing growth on the Internet is the online learning sector. Corporate employees are signing up for e-learning courses-everything from technology-certification courses to marketing classes. E-learning providers such as Blackboard are working hard to capitalize on this trend. Online and "virtual" universities, such as the University of Phoenix Online, are enjoying large increases in enrollment. And established traditional colleges and universities are increasingly taking to offering online distance learning programs.

Public and private elementary, middle, and high schools make up this sector. Expenditures here are predicted to rise as the number of students increases. In the coming years, the main task in this segment will be to improve education in poorer, high-minority school districts: Studies show that schools with high percentages of nonwhite students are underfunded and lack information technology normally found in more affluent school districts.

Higher Education
This segment includes community colleges, Ivy League schools, large universities known for their research and sports programs, and everything in between, both public and private. It also includes non-degree-granting teaching institutions such as extension programs, international study schools, and nontraditional learning schools. This sector serves young people preparing for their first jobs, but at the same time, rapid economic change and dislocation are propelling an increasing number of people from the job market back to schools of higher education to prepare for second or even third careers.

Education-Oriented Businesses
Education-oriented businesses teach subjects that fall outside the scope of traditional schools. Thus you have companies like Educate-owned Sylvan Learning Centers and Kaplan-owned SCORE Educational Centers, which offer after-school tutoring services, as well as Kaplan proper (which is owned by the Washington Post Company) and the Princeton Review, which prepare students for the SAT, the GMAT, and other exams. Foreign-language schools also fit into this category, as do a plethora of business, computer, and self-help companies. Specifically, test-prep and tutoring operations-especially those funded with SES dollars under the NCLB act-look like a healthy source of opportunity.

Education After Leaving School
Education increasingly goes on long after graduation from school. More and more skills are required by today's economy, and, in the 1990s, employers responded by offering more on-the-job training. Although poor financial performance forced some companies to cut back on training in the early 2000s, an increasing number of companies today recognize the value of training as a competitive strength. Many expect to see training and learning expenditures rise; still others are turning to online/distance-learning companies for their less-expensive courses.

The outlook for teaching jobs remains positive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects opportunities for teachers to vary from good to excellent through 2014. From the preschool to secondary grades, opportunities will depend on the locality, grade level, and subject. Though enrollments are expected to stagnate overall across the country, a few regions, particularly in the South and West, will experience a faster than average enrollment growth rate. Teacher turnover, coupled with a high retirement rate, will continue to create opportunities. Qualified teachers of math, science, bilingual education, foreign language, and special education, along with qualified vocational teachers in various specialties, are expected to be most in demand.

For would-be university-level teachers, the biggest bummer is that jobs are scarce and that you may have to move far away to get one-and there's a growing likelihood that you'll only be able to find a part-time position. However, this sector is the place to look if you're as interested in researching and publishing in your field as you are in teaching. Also, higher education provides a host of opportunities in a number of positions rarely found in the K-12 segment: investment manager, alumni fundraiser, financial-aid officer, admissions officer, buildings and grounds manager, and the like.

In most cases, if you want to teach K-12, you'll have to get certification, and for college-level positions at least a master's is necessary. If you don't have the credentials, though, don't despair. You might still be able to land a job in an under-resourced (that is, under-funded, inner-city) school district or through Teach for America, which hires college grads for two-year urban- and rural-district stints. You can also work at a private school; many hire recent grads. Be prepared to earn meager wages, though; suburban public schools generally offer the best K-12 salaries.

Unusual and alternative opportunities also exist for dedicated education job seekers at non-traditional schools worldwide. For example, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) offers week- and semester-long wilderness courses at eight branch schools and hires many adventure-oriented leaders. Schools in countries around the world hire native English speakers to teach English.

Education-oriented businesses are worth checking out, too. Lots of recent college grads find positions in these types of schools to get a taste of teaching and possibly move on to more traditional schools after getting a master's or a teaching certificate, while others go on to make a career out of it. Such organizations prefer experienced hires, but many will train new employees or expect them to learn on the job. A job with one of these organizations can include international travel and opportunities for gaining business experience. Downsides for job seekers include low pay, little job security, and few chances for advancement.

Doing Good Is Doing Right
There's a lot that's wrong in our society: crime, apathy, and so on. As a teacher, you can take pride in knowing that you're doing more to fight our problems than almost anyone else-by attacking them at their roots. If your students move on to the next level with the confidence that they can learn, achieve, and make a positive difference, they'll be less likely to drop out and became a drain on society and more likely to lead lives in which they make things better.

Can't Touch Me
Job security is high in many areas of the education field. Many teachers at both the K-12 and higher-education levels enjoy the benefits of tenure, which protects their jobs unless they screw up in the most egregious way. If you do well early in your career and get tenure, you may not get rich, but you'll be set for life in terms of having a steady career.

Continuing Education
For those who love to learn, a higher-education faculty job can be a dream come true. You'll be expected to continue your learning by keeping up with advances in your field. In many positions, you'll also be expected-even required-to continue your research. (We've all heard the phrase "publish or perish.") In addition, your school will send you hither and yon to academic conferences and give you sabbaticals during which you can focus on research. And there are always summer vacations.

Life on a Budget
You'll never get rich as a teacher. Oh, there may be some professors who make $250,000 a year-but they're generally already businesspeople, writers, or scientists at the pinnacle of their profession. Unless you're the same, prepare yourself for life in the middle class. You can advance in your career, but at every level, you're not going to make much more than $60,000 a year. Many teachers are even forced to take second jobs in order to make ends meet. And there'll be no corporate-style perks-no free dinners or cab rides home if you work late, and no stock options.

Bursting at the Seams
We've all heard the news: There's a crisis-with-a-capital-C in American education. This means a lack of money for supplies (in poorer areas, for basics such as toilet paper-it can be that bad) and large class sizes. The job of teaching in many places may indeed be more difficult today than it ever was. The flip side, of course, is that there may be more opportunity to help kids now than ever before.

Not This Again
If you teach at the secondary-school or higher-education level, prepare yourself for some yawns. You'll be expected at department meetings, where there may or may not be topics of substance to discuss. And often, you'll find yourself teaching the same course every year. This might be great during the second and third years, when you can improve on areas of your lectures that were weak the previous year, but after that, things might get dull at times. No matter how much you tweak the curriculum, you'll still be lecturing about the same topics-and even Paradise Lost can get old after a while.

Elementary School Teacher
People in these positions have a huge impact on their students' lives. The obvious part of the job is the time spent in the classroom, writing letters on the blackboard or helping students construct model cities out of milk cartons. But that is just the beginning of the work here. Teachers also have a lot of out-of-the-classroom work to do: grading papers, collecting those empty milk cartons, composing lesson plans, and the like. There is also night school or summer school to consider, for those who wish to improve their credentials and make a little extra money. Teachers can also often receive extra pay for extended duties such as overseeing extracurricular activities, coaching sports, or performing other jobs in the school system. Typically, private school teachers earn less than their public school counterparts. Salary range: $31,000 to $68,000.

Middle, Junior High, or High School Teacher
The job description here is similar to that for the elementary school teacher; the big difference is that instead of teaching a number of subjects to the same group of students all day, every day, you'll be teaching a single subject to a number of different students and classes. You'll also be teaching students who are no longer children and are on the verge of adulthood-which means you'll be dealing with your share of hormone-fueled behavior among your charges. Salary range: $31,000 to $68,000.

College or University Faculty Member
Most often, you need a PhD to work in this capacity. The time spent lecturing in front of a class is just a fragment of the total number of hours you can plan on working; you'll also be conducting research, writing books or articles, attending department meetings, and attending academic conferences. The beauty of this career is that it will support the pursuit of your academic passion. Salary range: $36,000 to $150,000.

Student Services
This includes everyone from (at the K-12 level) the guidance counselor, the school nurse, and the attendance officer to (at the higher education level) the admissions officer and the financial-aid officer to (at both) the maintenance worker and the librarian. Salary range: $23,000 to $90,000.

These positions include everyone from the high-school vice principal and the school-district superintendent to (at the higher-education level) the provost, the president, and the dean. These are the people responsible for maintaining and improving the intellectual and financial conditions of the institutions they represent. Advanced degrees and significant work experience are a must for many of these positions. Salary range: $43,000 to $150,000 or more.

Substitute Teacher
So, you want to be a teacher but you can't find a job? You can always start as a substitute. Subs are at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of salary and respect, but they are essential to the smooth functioning of any K-12 school. As an elementary school sub, you'll be as much a babysitter as anything else, but from middle school on up, you'll actually be teaching-that is, if the teacher you're subbing for left you a lesson plan. Salary range: $65 to $150 per day.

Most jobs in education require a BA. For a public school K-12 job, you'll also need certification, in all likelihood. Certification requirements vary by state, but generally, you'll need a basic-skills certificate in the state in which you want to work. Elementary-school teachers need a multiple-subject certificate, secondary-school teachers need a single-subject credential in the subject they want to teach, administrators need an administrative certificate (and often a teaching certificate, as well), and student-services workers need a services credential. In contrast, many private schools require only a BA degree for teachers, although most look for prior teaching experience.

At the higher-education level, you can often find work at a community or city college with a master's degree in the subject you want to teach (some community colleges require only a community college teaching credential), though many faculty jobs will be filled by PhDs. At the college and university level, there may be work for MAs (for instructors and for those working towards a PhD). But if you want to work at a prestigious school or in one of the more desirable locations in the country, you'd better have a PhD from one of the top schools in your field.

Aside from acquiring the various pieces of paper that employers will want to see, there are a few things you can do to make your job search as effective as possible:

  • Network as much as possible; jobs are often filled by word of mouth, so ask friends in the teaching business to keep an ear to the ground for you.
  • Show your enthusiasm in interviews. There are plenty of reasons to become jaded in this business; a true passion for teaching will be about the only thing that will get you past the rough spots. No employer wants a cynical or uncaring teacher on staff.
  • Make sure your application is professional. Type it, proofread carefully, and fill out any application forms fastidiously. Follow the application directions, as well; don't send information that's not requested-and do ensure that you include everything that is. Employers want to see that you're meticulous, and many school districts won't look at applications that don't follow directions to a "t."
  • Be flexible. This is a competitive field, so consider taking a less-than-ideal job with the knowledge that the experience you gain will help you find a better job more easily in the future. Getting your foot in the door at a reputable institution is more important than landing the perfect job. Once you prove your competence and pay your dues, you can likely move internally to a more desired job.