In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!

101Careers in CounselingMany professors of counselor education will eventually rise to becoming department chair at their institutions. It is fair to say that for some counseling faculty, serving as department chair is a step on the road to academic administration (assistant dean of the college, dean of the college, assistant vice president of academic affairs, etc.), though for most, they are simply taking their turn as a quasi-administrator who also teaches.


The required degree is a doctorate in counselor education, and the preferred type of doctoral degree is PhD, though the EdD remains in many doctoral programs.


As has been previously mentioned, higher education is evolving rapidly due to the Internet age. Today’s department chair needs to be a seasoned (associate professor or above) and well-organized faculty member and a good communicator and should have a calm demeanor in order to resolve interdepartmental conflicts and neutralize pressure between dean and faculty and between faculty and students. The department chair is also required to be able to dispense difficult news to students (such as suspension from the counseling program), faculty (“No, we’re not supporting you for tenure”), and administrators (“We cannot take that many students if we wish to retain our CACREP accreditation”).

The previous paragraph mentions some of the issues an aspiring department chair needs to understand in order to be effective. As a former department chair and longtime professor, my experience is that most counseling faculty are not interested in becoming department chair as it impeded their research time and, in many cases, requires a 12-month (as opposed to 9-month) commitment. Department chairs typically get a reduction in teaching load (say, from three courses per semester to two courses) and a small increase in salary (though large institutions will provide a larger salary increase). It is also fair to say, from my experience, that few professors of counselor education move up the academic administration ladder to become dean of the college and even fewer become provost. Simply put, most department chairs in counselor education will take the job for 3 to 5 years and then step aside for a colleague.


Many department chairs may enjoy their opportunity to make a more significant impact at their institution. A department chair would be in a better position to advocate for their counselor education program than would a line faculty. The department chair is in a position to dialogue with the dean of the college and, in fact, may meet with the dean regularly. In some institutions, being selected as a department chair by one’s colleagues is a recognition that the faculty member has garnered the respect of his or her colleagues.


There are many challenges (facets) in the job as department chair. (And I speak from experience!) The department chair is “caught” between the faculty and the dean of the college (usually the College of Education), and this can at times be a precarious position with the faculty seeing you as too cozy with the dean and the dean viewing you as too “pro” faculty. Though you will receive a salary increase, it will often be slight. You will get reduction in teaching time (most often, reduction of one course), but this may be offset by the increased workload. A department chair is part professor, part administrator, ombudsman, advisor, mediator, “priest” (there is a type of confession-like role at times, though a secular one), disciplinarian, and, occasionally, friend. These different roles likely will put a department chair in the role of addressing challenging issues, such as tenure decision, student discipline, negotiating with the dean, and mediating between faculties.


The BOLS does not report salary figures or occupational outlook for department chairs, but you can look at the mean salary reported for professors and get some idea. For example, if Mid State University (master’s degree–granting institution) pays $57,000 for an associate professor, you could probably add another $1000 to $3000. Regarding occupational outlook, there will be far fewer department chairs than faculty as there is only one department chair for a counselor education department at a time.

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