Transcript: Tuesday, September 12, 2006; 2:00 PM

Careers in Higher Education

David Harpool
Chief Operating Officer of Academics, Kaplan University
Tuesday, September 12, 2006; 2:00 PM

Skill, effort and luck can take you to the top of any field -- but it never hurts to get a little help. In our Helping Hands special feature, we've got plenty of assistance on tap: articles, tools and live discussions that will help you learn more about how to get ahead in the area's top industries or your career in general.

David Harpool suffers from no sophomoric delusions about higher education. He has worked as an academic and administrator for traditional and non-traditional colleges. He was online taking questions about job trends in higher education.

Kaplan is a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co.

Find more career-related news and advice in our Jobs section.

The transcript follows below.


David Harpool: Hello everyone. I am excited to lead this conversation concerning higher education. I still believe in the power of education to advance the human condition.


Woodbridge, Va.: What are the benefits of an online education and a traditional college education. How would you suggest I make that choice?

David Harpool: If you have self-discipline and like to learn on your own then online is a great choice. The benefits besides learning a discipline and earning a degree are the skills in online communication, working in groups and using technology to be effective. Most studies rank online learning as equal to or superior for the right type of learner.


Orlando, Fla.: I am a CPA with graduate degrees in accounting and management Information system who is seriously thinking with a career in higher education with emphasis in distance education. I have no prior experience in higher education and don't know where to start. I am open to a doctorial degree. Where do I go from here?

David Harpool: Eventually you will want a Ph.D., but begin looking for online colleges that offer associate degrees in accounting and/or management. You may also need to team teach your first course for free but you will find an entry in online learning.


Washington, D.C.: I'm just starting out in a university general counsel's office with a brand new law degree. It's a one year fellowship, so I'll be looking again soon, and I've been trying to figure out where I can go to stay in higher education (though not necessarily in law). I have no other full-time experience, though I do have a few part-time experiences in student affairs and some academic units. Though I know to move into the upper echelons I'll need to get my Ph.D. at some point, I'm not ready for that step yet. How can I keep my career on an academic/administrative track in the meantime? In my spare time, I'm working on some pieces (hopefully) for publication, but what else can I do?

David Harpool: I did not go back and earn my Ph.D. until several years after completing my J.D. I would look at legal studies and paralegal programs to begin your academic career. If you want to stay in a law related area, a compliance officer might be the next step.


Washington, DC: Thanks for doing this chat -- it comes at a great time for me! What advice would you give to someone looking to apply to graduate programs in history, aside from the obvious ones like know the professor with whom you want to study, etc.? Are recommendations from employers, if they're related to the topic I am proposing to focus on, inappropriate? Any advice you have would be welcome. Thanks!

David Harpool: Four key factors: the quality of the faculty, the reputation in the specific area of history you want to study, does the format of the program meet your needs in terms of schedule and finances, and what is the placement record for recent graduates of history? Good luck.


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Harpool: For for-profit universities, is the GRE required for master's programs? Is it accredited by the Department of Education?

David Harpool: Most do not require the GRE. The DoE nor accreditors specifically require the GRE.


Washington, D.C.: How do online degree programs fit in with greater trends towards internationalizing traditional institutions? Georgetown and Cornell have campuses in Dubai. How is our traditional definition of "campus" changing in this era?

David Harpool: Online learning has given us the chance to make every class an international classroom. Case studies and small groups really are better with the international perspective. Online programs are really a campus in their own right.


Los Angeles: I once interviewed at USC -- great school -- for an accounting/finance job which I ended up getting. However, the application process was so achingly long I gave up and accepted a corporate job that took a couple weeks to get, versus the month long process at USC. Years later, I'm considering a move and will look at education as well as the corporate world. I've heard similar complaints from others, that universities take a ridiculous amount of time to hire. Is there any diplomatic way to approach a university saying, "I would be a great fit and bring solid skills to your college, but I don't have time for multiple interviews and weeks wait for an offer?"

David Harpool: Depends on the institution. The search process at traditional institutions will last at least four months. Less traditional institutions can complete the search in 30 days. I would open your letter with the fact timing is important do to other opportunities.


Arlington, Va.: Are online professors as accountable as university professors (to the students, provost and board)?

David Harpool: They are more accountable because the entire course, chat, etc., is captured in writing and reviewed. Our professors were all professors at traditional colleges before joining us.


North Carolina: I just completed my Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. I'm off to Europe to work at a well regarded company in my field. I was thinking about coming back to the states in five or six years to become a professor. What are my odds of getting a tenure track position? Will universities like the overseas experience or will they only see that I've left academia and not take the chance? Any other thoughts? Thanks.

David Harpool: In your discipline you should have no problem becoming a professor. I suggest you teach online while you are overseas. International experience is a great addition to an academic resume. I wouldn't limit yourself to only tenure positions. There are multi-year contracts that also offer security.


College Park, Md.: Thanks for the series of Helping Hands and this special topic!

I plan to apply teaching job (economics) in community college in this area. I have degrees here with research assistant but no teaching here. The question is all of teaching job requires teaching experiences. I taught for six years in my home country university, 10 years ago. Will it be counted as teaching experience? How to present/phrase this experience in my resume/cover letter as a qualification? Is it a good approach to give a lecture in a topic? Thanks very much for your help!

David Harpool: Most institutions will accept teaching international teaching experience. Another approach is to offer to teach one course as a team-teacher without compensation to get experience.


Washington, D.C.: David -- I am a burned-out litigator who longs to be a law professor. But I didn't go to an ivy league law school (went to Tulane). Is there no hope for me, or would publishing a lot help?

What about teaching undergrad? Any chance of getting hired for that with a J.D.?

David Harpool: It is very likely. Look at colleges that offer legal studies or paralegal programs. I started my career in higher education in that manner as a former burned-out litigator.


Anonymous: Dear Mr. Harpool,

I'm a faculty member at an institution that offers most of its classes online and that does not use the traditional tenure system. I teach online every semester. Since my presence is virtual more than physical, I'm wondering how to get noticed, make a good impression on the job, and align myself with a mentor or other "higher up" on the job. Like many online students, I often feel like I am toiling away anonymously.

David Harpool: I would describe one of the innovations you use in your courses and how it impacts students in a document. Then I would send it as a proposed "best practice" to a senior executive in your institution. Focus on how it helped students.


Washington, DC: Hi, Mr. Harpool. I have been working at public relations firms for about eight years, and at some point may be interested in getting a PR job "in-house" at a company, association, or university. Do you have any advice on how to find a PR job at a university, and where I can find out about openings in the D.C. area? Any general advice about PR in the university setting and how it differs from working at an agency would be appreciated too. Thank you!

David Harpool: That move is more common than you think. Be able to demonstrate your knowledge of how to pitch the president of an institution and faculty/scholars to the media. When you get a package together, send it to the president directly. Get a copy of an institution's internal publication and describe how you would pitch that story if you worked for the institution. I would also send a sample of branding ideas. Stamats Marketing (see online) is a good resource.


Bremerton, Wash.: I work as an adjunct, teaching the sciences, and have done this for thirteen years. Most of the teachers at the community college level I know are adjuncts. We have about half the pay, very limited benefits (when we qualify), no tenure or security of any sort and are not supported in taking sabbatical.

Why do the institutions of higher education create and maintain the kinds of jobs that we hope our students will never have to take? It is not possible to work elsewhere as the colleges have a lock on these jobs. As to needing 'flexibility' to hire and fire with enrollment ... I know a lot of adjuncts who have taught the same classes every quarter for decades.

David Harpool: I do not think the situation you describe is an appropriate use of adjunct faculty. I prefer the concept of core faculty who although part-time can expect regular teaching assignments, support for professional development and a long-term relationship with an institution. These goals can be accomplished and often are, without tenure.


Fairfax, Va.: I am interested in a career in institutional research. Any advice on breaking into this side of administration? Thanks.

David Harpool: Look at institutions that have robust student assessment plans. Also focus on institutional effectiveness, because there will continue to be a push toward accountability.


Philadelphia, Penn.: What about getting hired within higher education (staff positions, not academia)? I can get admitted as a grad student just fine, but the application process seems hopeless for getting a job. It's even more of a black hole than applying at the federal government! How can I get my foot in the door to work in higher education? How to make networking connections with staff members, what really makes a cover letter stand out? Those admin assistant positions don't say you need a master's in higher education management, but is that who I'm competing against? Thanks for any tips.

David Harpool: For a staff position the key is getting a champion inside the human resources office. Often a human resource officer will promote your hire from within.


Washington, D.C.: Is there any precedent for people in the development field (fundraising) moving on to other high-level higher ed. administrative jobs? I am interested in that type of transition but don't know how common it is.


David Harpool: It is the second most common path to a Presidency. Work your way to the top development position in an organization. That will increase your chances of moving to an executive position.


Falls Church, Va.: I'm interested in teaching at a community college part-time. I have a master's degree (it's a professional degree, though, not an MA or MS) in an interdisciplinary field, but only about three and a half years of experience in my field. I also was a long-term substitute high school teacher for a couple months between graduate school and my current job. Any tips no how to get hired?

David Harpool: Go straight to the department chair of the college in your discipline. Chairs are the decision makers for faculty hiring.


Boston, Mass.: I got my master's degree in geo-science two years ago and have since worked in consulting. I'm finding that consulting is really not for me and am looking to break back into the academic/research world. Eventually, I would like to get my Ph.D. but I'm not sure where I fit now that I've been a consultant. Currently I'm looking for research positions at universities to hopefully get me back to the academic end of things. Is there some other way I should approach this? Thanks!

David Harpool: I would look at teaching institutions rather than research institutions until you've earned a PH.D.


Washington, D.C.: During the cost of college education debate, there has been some discussion of alternative administrative strategies, such as outsourcing some back-office operations. Do you see this as a trend and how might it affect the traditional higher education workforce?

David Harpool: I am seeing it in financial aid, legal, payroll and other areas. The institution remains accountable so I see it as a positive and step to control tuition increases.


Washington, D.C.: Please describe the difference between an academic and administrator role in a college or university setting? Is a PhD required for both roles?

David Harpool: The difference is really in the type of institution, teaching vs. research. College vs university are often used to describe the same type of institution. A Ph.D. or other doctorate is usually required.


Alexandria, Va.: I would love to teach online. I have a master's in management information systems and an bachelor's in computer information systems.

I know how online education works because I was a student online, it was enjoyable and would love to teach in that realm. How do I apply for a position at an online institution?

David Harpool: We are growing and looking for faculty at Kaplan University as are many schools. You can apply by going to our Web site By the way we are owned by the Washington Post.


Fairfax, Va.: I am considering grad school next fall. Is there any research I can do now that will increase my chances to work on campus as teacher's assistant?

David Harpool: Yes, go department by department at the school you chose. Teacher's assistant decisions are made in each department.


Arlington, Va.: I am considering a career switch to student affairs. What is the salary range? Is it necessary to move often to get ahead? What is the general day-to-day like?

David Harpool: You would be a problem solver and counselor to students. The range is $45,000 and above for mid-level positions.


Washington, D.C.: I would like to take classes online in preparation for graduate school, will it be more difficult for someone with only a high school knowledge of economics be able to absorb as much in that subject in an online course? How is the classroom time replicated online? Beyond a Bachelor's: a primer for those considering going back to school provides information on how to weigh the benefits of an advanced degree and hints for getting accepted at your choice program.

David Harpool: That all depends on the type of learner you are. If you have self-discipline online will be great. At Kaplan University we find that is the key skill needed to learn online.


Washington, D.C.: I'm really interested in a career in public relations. I've done a few internships in the field, but my undergrad degree is not in that field specifically. I don't know anyone who went to graduate school for that, but is this trend changing? Is there some way to bolster my resume without a Master's?

David Harpool: I would volunteer in an office or freelance first, then a master's would make sense.


Huntsville, Ala.: I'm wondering if I signed on for the correct career path. I have a Ph.D., but make less money than most of my peers, work longer hours, and don't have a guaranteed job security for at least four more years. In the mean time, I hear about the shortage of research scientists, but it doesn't bear itself out in my salary or in the hierarchy of the university. I'm thinking of getting a master's in educational administration. Is this is a good way to slide over to the administrative side of things and increase my salary? Or at the very least become a principal?

David Harpool: Research focused on institutional effectiveness or the assessment of student learning would be a good match. If you want to be in higher education, I suggest a degree in higher education leadership not school administration.


Annapolis, Md.: Are the international opportunities generally growing in the areas of economics and finance at the graduate level? I am interested in an master's in economics combined with a CPA (rather than an MBA).

David Harpool: You can get the combination in the U.S. and internationally. Look for colleges with a school of economics rather than just a business school.


Rockville, Md.: I'm a recent college grad, looking at applying to grad school for higher education administration for next fall. I ultimately want to get into either university public relations or admissions; I majored in journalism as an undergrad. What types of features would you suggest to look for in a graduate school, and how does the job market in higher education compare to the general job market in the region?

David Harpool: We tell prospective students looking at Kaplan that you need to match the mission of the college (teaching or research), the format of the program (on-ground, online or blended) and the program you desire with your goals. Higher education is a booming profession. The quality of the faculty is the key to a good graduate program.


Southwest, U.S.: Hi there,

I will be graduating with my master's in student affairs in May. After seven years in the southwest, I'm ready to relocate home to New England. However, I've heard that it's difficult to get your foot in the door at big universities where nobody knows your name. Would it better for me to get a job at my current school and get the experience first, before moving away? There is the possibility I may be offered one, although not in the field of my choice.

Anecdotal evidence and personal experience tells me that at many colleges, it's an insider's game as to who gets the job. Do you have any perspective on how competitive the higher ed job market is in New England? FYI, I am mainly interested in academic advising and retention programs.

Thanks very much for this chat.

David Harpool: You can't beat experience on a resume. If you prefer to move first look for smaller colleges and career schools where getting in the door is easier.


Fairfax, Va.: I am currently in the D.C. area, but considering relocating back to were I was prior to moving to this area. I have been in higher education (professional staff, not faculty) for nine years. How do you suggest I begin my job search, considering obtaining jobs in higher education can be a lengthy process? Eventually, I am more interested in the administration/student services side of Higher Education, but have not obtained a doctorate degree as of yet. Will it be a difficult move?

David Harpool: You don't need a doctorate to get into the field. The key will be to make a contact inside the institution. I would try smaller institutions, career schools and for-profits at first.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Mr. Harpool,

I'm planning to earn a Ph.D. in drama/theatre, but I'd like to work at a non-profit theatre or policy org (ex. National Endowment for the Arts). What practical skills do non-academic employers place as a premium when your degree is liberal-artsy and therefore "ivory tower" (ex. theater, english, etc.)?

Thank you!

David Harpool: Your writing ability and problem-solving skills are key. You need to persuade them that your degree made you a life-long learner. Your degree will help you with most non-profit organizations.


Reston, Va.: I have two years of teaching experience from when I was getting my M.A. in literature (graduated in 1997), but have been a professional writer and editor much of the time since then. Is it possible that I could find work as an adjunct teaching writing, or is my experience considered too old to matter?

David Harpool: You can find a teaching position but I would encourage you to look at schools like Kaplan University with online programs. Those colleges hire editors and instructional designers as well as writing instructors. Your degree which was granted in 1997 is fine with most institutions.


Skaneateles, N.Y.: I speak a second language well-enough to consider myself to be bilingual and have published a handful of articles on my area of specialization in respectable journals. An advice column for job-seekers on the web site of The Chronicle of Higher Education states that these days as a practical matter no one over the age of 45 is ever hired for a tenure-track job. Would you care to comment on this information? I appreciate it.

David Harpool: I don't think that is true. I would focus on institutions that are stable and offer continued employment because of performance and not place too great of emphasis on tenure. Many schools have large numbers of faculty retiring and want to replace them with the best faculty possible.


Washington, D.C.: Hello! I have seen many colleges promoting their certificate programs; how do employers view these programs?

David Harpool: Certificates that are offered above the bachelors degree as a way to add skills or knowledge are popular. Certificates that attempt to substitute for a degree are not.


Washington, D.C.: I work in higher education admissions. As you can imagine, we are constantly defending the value of an education in the face of enormous tuition costs and shrinking financial aid. Can you point me to peer-reviewed articles/reports that layout the economic and personal growth value (with statistics) of an education? It's really the parents (footing the bill) we're having to educate here.

David Harpool: In the time permitted I can't give you the list of articles but a search through the Internet on the value of a college education will find several respected studies. Most conclude that the life earnings of someone earning a bachelors degree over a high school diploma is 1.5 million. Educated people, according to the studies also are healthier, experience less divorce and perceive their life is meaningful. It is listed as the single most important factor in increasing socio-economic status.


Germantown, Md.: I am considering grad school, but I am over 50. I was, unfortunately, one those people whose career (accounting) was abruptly ended by a rapid succession of M&A induced layoffs. Bottom line, I need to figure a way to jump start either my existing "career" or move into another one.

In general employers shy away from interviewing older individuals. Their applications always have the date of birth data element. If I go to grad school, is there some way I can gain access to a company in a more direct way? What do online degrees provide as far as networking?

David Harpool: When in graduate school reach out to every company that supports internships from your college.


Washington, D.C.: How do tuition costs compare to higher ed institutions here (UDC, GU, GWU, AU)? For a full-time master's? Is there health insurance through for-profit colleges or are most of Kaplan's students part-time?

David Harpool: Most but not all of our students are part-time. There are health insurance programs available through several companies for college students even part-time students. Tuition needs to be compared to value. Kaplan University students ranked us in a independent survey as number one in value to costs. The key is what do you have when you earn a degree. The answer should be knowledge and skills. Compare costs with the reputation and the quality of the program.


David Harpool: I enjoyed the discussion. If you are interested in joining an organization on the cutting edge of higher education as a student or faculty/staff visit We have online, on-ground (KHEC) and blended programs. Regardless of what college you select, in-general advancing your education is the single best return on money you have.


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