From Enterprise to Academic Environment

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It’s been said that people do not choose to work for a college for monetary reasons. And in the information technology sphere, that generalization definitely holds true. According to Salary.com, a corporate technical trainer averages $60,000 per year, while a senior technical trainer can make upward of $80,000 per year. A college computer science instructor, on the other hand, averages $48,000 per year.

In fact, Ann Beheler, dean of engineering and emerging technology at Collin County Community College District, said her salary was nearly cut in half when she left a director’s position at a corporation to accept a dean’s job at a college. “It’s seldom that anyone would make more money working for a college than working in industry,” she said.

Academic Advantages
So why would anyone want to give up a lucrative corporate career and move into academia? Well, for starters, it can be a matter of lifestyle. According to Beheler, a faculty member’s full load in a college is typically teaching 15 to 20 hours (lab and lecture) hours per week plus five to eight office hours. “The remainder of the regular work week is fairly flexible with respect to timing and is meant to be used for preparation, grading, student interaction outside office hours, committee work, etc.,” Beheler said. “Some people really like the flexibility in timing.”

The flexible schedule can help trainers achieve, or at least come close to, the ever-elusive work-life balance. Beheler also said life runs a bit slower in academia than in the corporate world. “Courses are not taught in as short a timeframe,” she said. “I found that some of my colleagues, for example, never got to the last chapters in some of the official curriculum while I had plenty of time to cover all of it.” In addition, Beheler said, teaching gives people an opportunity to mold new students every semester. “Most really enjoy the long-term personal interaction with the students,” she said.

Finally, Beheler said the intangible rewards of teaching outweigh the smaller salary. “The sense of accomplishment for knowing that what I do affects people’s lives for the better is reward enough for me, and fortunately, I am in a position to be able to work where I wish.”

A Different World
Despite these advantages, however, moving from a corporate world to a college environment can be difficult. For example, college classes are often diverse with respect to many factors including age and ethnicity, as well as preparation level. Teaching unprepared or inexperienced students can be more difficult than training colleagues with a similar experience level in a corporate setting. “Diversity is very stimulating, but it takes a special person with special interest in people to simultaneously address the student who is very ill-prepared to take a class and a student who is over-prepared for the same class,” Beheler said. “Sometimes students are ill-prepared to take a class with respect to prerequisite knowledge. Also, college students of today often have many other activities competing for their time, such as work, family, etc. Sometimes these students have difficulty focusing on school work enough to be successful.”

In addition to classroom differences, colleges face challenges that many corporations don’t have to face. For example, college funding can suddenly shrink depending on the economy, politics and changes in state or federal administrations. As a result, some colleges also do not have up-to-date equipment and up-to-date curriculum to teach, Beheler said. “Additionally, there may be little or no money for professional development for the academic instructor to maintain currency,” Beheler said. “I have been fortunate to work for colleges with sufficient funding to stay up to date, but I know that others have not had that luxury.”

Before You Jump
Before entering the academic arena, Beheler suggests would-be professors teach part-time for a college to give yourself a “trial run” at being an academic instructor. “Some people really like the sense of involvement with their student and being part of an academic community,” Beheler said. “But some find it unrewarding.”

Trying your hand at part-time teaching also is necessary because moving into a college position isn’t as easy as acing an interview. Most colleges will want prospective teachers to have some experience teaching in a college environment prior to granting them a position, even if the person has a training background in the corporate world.

To get some experience, talk to local community colleges and technical schools about part-time or night-school instructor positions or opportunities to work with classes as a subject-matter expert. DeVry University, for example, offers teaching opportunities for senior executives with Master’s Degrees or higher. These executives can participate in DeVry’s online education program, which gives executives a chance to share their practitioner experience with working adult learners in an online learning environment. All new-to-DeVry instructors participate in a comprehensive faculty training program and ongoing faculty development activities. Using this experience, corporate trainers can build their academic experience until they feel comfortable making the jump from an enterprise to an academic environment.

-Sarah Stone, sarahs@certmag.com

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