Colleges and universities assign faculty members different academic ranks that signify how much training and experience they have. These ranks indicate the level of education and other requirements necessary to obtain that position, according to Bradley University. Full-time academic ranks include assistant, associate and full professor.
Though non-doctoral teachers can secure jobs in higher education, in order to secure the title of professor, they must have a terminal degree in their field. Earning the Ph.D. -- the terminal degree in any field -- gives professors the academic knowledge and expertise to teach at the post-secondary level. In addition to having a Ph.D., you'll also need to have teaching experience and get published to prove that you know your field inside and out.
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Schools seek Ph.D.s to teach their students not only to provide the highest-quality education possible, but also to increase a department's or college's reputation. Also, the higher your degree, the higher your pay, even if you teach the same class as someone with a lower degree.
Assistant Professor Requirements
As the junior faculty member in an academic department, the assistant professor is almost always a recent doctoral graduate starting his career in higher education. Even though the assistant professor is the lowest ranking for a full-time professor, it still usually requires a Ph.D., with rare exceptions.
Most colleges and universities prefer that the assistant professor has some teaching experience, which he might have garnered as he earned his Ph.D. Assistant professors also need to work on scholarship by presenting their research and engaging in service on campus and beyond.
Associate Professor Requirements
What is associate professor? In order for a person to earn the title of associate professor, she has to meet all of the requirements of an assistant professor, including holding the Ph.D. or terminal degree in her field. She has to demonstrate strong teaching skills as well as scholarly performance outside of the classroom. A promotion to associate professor might require that the person publish several academic journal articles or a book to promote her research. Having the Ph.D. behind her name can make this challenging effort a bit easier.
Full Professor Requirements
Accomplished professors can earn the title of full professor – the highest academic rank – after a proven record of scholarly success. Naturally, this rank requires that the professor hold a Ph.D. in his academic field. Often, these professors have five to 10 years of professorial experience at the postsecondary level. Their work has been published, and they have taken on leadership roles in the campus and the community.
Other Academic Ranks
Teachers who do not hold a Ph.D. but want to teach in higher education can apply for lower-level positions in academia. Instructors and lecturers are titles given to faculty members who have a temporary appointment to teach in a department. For example, a lecturer might come to a university to teach undergraduate courses for a two-year stint. This level of teaching requires a master's degree in the field -- though many instructors and lecturers do hold Ph.D.s.
You can teach at some colleges and universities without a Ph.D. more commonly as a part-time adjunct instructor For example, if you are a CPA who wants to teach bookkeeping at night at your local community college, you can get hired, although the school would prefer that you have at least a master's.