College department chairs, classified as educational administrators by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, commonly earn salaries in the six figures, along with generous benefit packages. Although median incomes are quite high, individual incomes vary according to region, experience and qualifications. Large universities typically pay better than small colleges, although this isn't always the case.
Job Duties and Qualifications
A department chair at a college is typically a professor with additional administrative responsibilities. He may be involved in the recruitment of staff, organizing class schedules, assigning professors to teach particular classes and organizing professional development activities for staff. Like other professors, he must also teach classes in his field, perform academic research and publish the results of his research. A college professor is normally required to hold a doctoral degree in his field, although certain colleges require only a master's degree. Colleges usually select only tenured professors as department chairs. Tenure typically takes at least seven years to achieve, although different colleges impose different requirements. Even among tenured professors, only the most capable administrators are considered for department chair positions.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that for the 2008-2009 school year, the median annual salary for academic deans ranged from $92,622 to $150,000, depending on the department. Heads of vocational educational departments earn the least, while deans of business schools earn the most. Because colleges often distinguish between academic deans and department chairs and pay deans higher salaries without requiring them to teach, this estimate likely surpasses the average salary of college department chairs. In a May 2010 estimate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median salary for post-secondary educational administrators was $83,710. Because this category includes administrators who aren't tenured professors, it likely underestimates the average salary for department chairs.
Colleges usually offer department heads full health insurance policies and generous pension plans. Annual vacations of four to five weeks aren't uncommon, and department chairs are often eligible for periodic yearlong sabbaticals. Colleges often offer free tuition for department chairs and their immediate families. The long-term job security provided by tenure offers an intangible benefit that's difficult to quantify.
Job prospects for educational administrators for the 2008 to 2018 period are bright. Although job growth is projected to be only 2 percent, well below the average for all jobs, the number of job openings is expected to increase because of a surge in retirement during this period, combined with a shortage of qualified applicants. Job growth and employment prospects are expected to be the strongest in the southern and western regions of the U.S.