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Academia welcomes new skills

Justin Horvath left a career as an animator to become an instructional designer at Northeastern University. Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

After 10 years of working 60-hour weeks as an animator in Hollywood, Justin Horvath needed a change — and a better balance between his professional and personal lives.

So Horvath headed east in 2010 to get his master’s degree in educational/instructional technology from Boston University. The degree opened the door to the field of online learning, helping him to land a position as an instructional designer at Northeastern University, where he combines his multimedia skills with his interests in education and technology.

He’s earning about 20 percent less, but he usually gets home by 6 p.m. from his job helping faculty in the College of Professional Studies develop online classes. “It’s really rewarding,” said Horvath, 36, of Jamaica Plain.


As Horvath shows, jobs at colleges and universities are changing along with technology, students, and higher education itself. Demand for professionals to work in online learning, fund-raising, and services for an increasingly diverse pool of students is booming. Positions such as research analyst, communications coordinator, library specialist, and project and program manager are also in demand, according to the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium .

Over the next 10 years, jobs for college and university administrators are expected to grow 15 percent nationally compared with 11 percent for all jobs, according to the US Labor Department. The median pay is about $86,000 a year.

The growth in higher education employment. A 2013 survey found that 7.1 million students — about one-third of all students — took at least one online course, up from 6.7 million in 2012.

College and university officials say many skills from other industries are transferable to higher education, although they might have to be bolstered with a degree or certificate.

Patrick Carpenter, 36, of West Springfield, got his master’s degree in higher education administration online from Bay Path University in Longmeadow in 2011 with the goal of becoming a college president. Today, colleges and universities increasingly tap politicians, business executives, and administrators for the post of president, which traditionally has gone to academics.


Carpenter began his career in higher education in 2002 and returned to his alma mater, Elms College in Chicopee, to become director of residence life. He landed a position in 2011 as director of annual giving at Elms in the hopes of someday nabbing the top job at a college or university.

Nancy Aebersold, executive director of the Recruitment Consortium, advises job seekers to research colleges and universities to find out which institutions, departments, and jobs excite them; tap networks to find people in higher ed for informational interviews; and be patient and persistent with human resources and hiring managers. To find a college or university that’s a good fit, check out the “About Us” section of the institution’s website, or job board sites such as HigherEdJobs and the consortium, which has both national and regional listings.

Carolyn Harris, 53, of Cumberland, R.I., enrolled in an online master’s program in higher education administration at Northeastern University after working 28 years in clerical positions at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.

Harris found a posting on a job board site for a director of academic advising in the college of architecture and urban studies at Virginia Tech. Her familiarity with architectural study, together with her soon-to-be-completed graduate work from Northeastern helped her land the job in October.


Joan Axelrod-Contrada is at joanaxelrodcontrada@