What's More Important for Professors: Higher Degrees or Real World Experience?

Aug 05, 2011

No one would argue that's important for college professors to have a quality educational background. But where should that background come from? Earning a Ph.D. requires years of research and writing, but oftentimes involves very little real-world experience. Could someone with a strong professional background but no Ph.D. make a more effective professor?

By Jessica Lyons

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Requirements to Teach at the College Level

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the educational requirements needed to be a professor at a college or university varies depending on where the person is teaching and the subject he or she is teaching. While the BLS notes that potential professors could need anything from field expertise to a Ph.D., it does note that those with a doctoral degree will most likely have the best job prospects.

The qualifications a professor could need might also depend on their own career goals. For instance, if the professor wants to teach at a 2-year college and is not interested in moving on to a 4-year college, then a master's degree might be all he or she needs. However, those interested in teaching at a 4-year college or university could need to have their doctorate degrees.

The amount of education a professor needs could also depend on if he or she wants to be part-time or a full-time professor with the potential to get tenure. The BLS states that a Ph.D. is frequently needed to be considered for full-time positions that could lead to tenure.

Real World Experience Important Too

Many schools have already recognized that it's important for faculty to have real world experience in the areas they're teaching. For instance, the Eberly College of Business and Information Technology at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania's website boasts that many of its professors have field experience in addition to doctoral degrees. There are many other higher education institutions that use the fact that their professors have real world experience as a selling point, which illustrates that these schools view it as a significant quality.

Is Field Experience Better Than Having a Doctorate?

Although the ideal situation for colleges and universities would be for their professors to have higher degrees and field experience, what happens when they have to choose between one or the other? In many fields, it could be better for the professor to have first-hand knowledge instead of an advanced degree on the subject.

For instance, a professor teaching accounting courses could have earned their bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in the field, but if he or she never actually worked as an accountant it could make it difficult to fully teach students all of the ins and outs of the field. If a student wants to ask questions about what it's like, for example, to work as an accountant during tax season, this professor would have a hard time providing answers.

It's important for professors to have their own real world experience so that they can provide their students with a well-rounded education that goes beyond just what's in a textbook. Their insight into the field can help prepare students for the future and ensure they fully understand what to expect once they are working in that same field.

Read about some famous college professors who brought their expertise to the classroom.

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