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Are Community College Teachers Called “Professors”?

You want to make the right impression when you pursue your secondary education, especially when it comes to your instructors. Formalities and titles are culturally unique, and committing the errors of calling an instructor by the wrong title might be a blunder you want to avoid. So what are community college instructors called? 

Community college instructors are called professors just like instructors at universities and other colleges. “Professor” is an umbrella term for facilitators working in post-secondary academic institutions. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the difference between teachers and professors. We’ll also talk about the similarities between community college professors and other university professionals and why they’re worthy of the same title (source).

Community college teacher or professor?

Why Instructors Are Called Professors at Community Colleges

The word teacher takes on many meanings, and some are interchangeable for coaches, instructors, and other educational roles. If you’re concerned about calling your instructor by the wrong title, you might be wondering whether or not your community college teacher is technically a professor. 

In the US, instructors at community colleges are called professors. 

“Professor” is an overarching term meaning postsecondary educators and has little to do with the type of college or university they’re teaching at.

As we mentioned above, titles can be pretty cultural and language-specific. In Spanish, the term “teacher” is translated to “profesoro/a,” just the same as the term “professor.” In the US, though, teachers and professors are defined differently. 

However, the type of school they’re teaching at is not a factor that plays into the title.  

The Difference Between a Teacher, Instructor, and a Professor

In the US, there’s an easy distinction between teachers and professors. The main difference is the grade or level of education that your facilitator is instructing. College instructors have typically been deemed professors, while primary and secondary instructors are called teachers. 

In US schools, there are also a few distinctions between professors. 

You may have heard of an adjunct, associate, or assistant professor. These are all still post-secondary instructors, which is why “professor” is tagged on the end of each of them. 

But what difference does the prefix make? 

The difference is usually the length of the college teaching career and whether or not the university has tenured the professor. The distinctions are as follows (source):

  • Adjunct professors have been hired but aren’t considered full-time staff. 
  • Assistant professors are in the first steps to reaching a tenured status at a university and usually means that a professor is beginning their facilitating career. 
  • Associate professors have a pretty sturdy college-level teaching career and are even closer to being tenured by a university. 
  • Professors have been working closely with the university through teaching and research for a longer time and have been tenured by the school. 

The terms can still have different meanings from school to school, though. 

Boston University has even stricter requirements, for example. Their assistant professors are recognized on a state level, associate on a national level, and professors internationally. They also qualify their “instructors” and “professors” differently, clarifying that instructors have master’s degrees while their professors have their doctorates at their university (source).

The Definition Of Being Tenured

A tenured status means a professor has been hired on for life by a university and can’t be fired or let go without cause. The degree and work experience requirements differ by university, but tenured professors have usually worked at the university doing research and facilitating longer than non-tenured colleagues. 

Tenured professors are, of course, allowed to leave their position if they do, but it’s much harder for universities to fire them if they’d like to end their professional relationships (source).

Requirements to Becoming a College Level Instructor

A common misconception is that professors have master’s degrees while teachers have bachelor’s degrees. 

This is false, as even your high school teachers who had master’s degrees or even doctoral degrees were technically teachers. Another common misconception is that community college teachers are less qualified than teachers who facilitate college-level courses at universities or state colleges. 

This is also untrue. 

Both community college and state college professors must have at least a master’s degree. This is the same for university and private college personnel. So why would a professor choose to teach at a community college rather than a traditional university (source)?

Just like you have personal preferences and requirements for your job, professors can decide based on the career they’d like to pursue. The main takeaway is that college-level instructors are qualified by the same characteristics, which is a minimum of a master’s degree regardless of school status. 

Different universities may have different requirements for their instructors, but all post-secondary instructors are still filed under “professor.” 

What To Call Your Community College Instructor

So, after all that information, you may still be wondering what to call your instructor. Do you call them instructors? Teacher? Professor? Doctor? Teach’?

The straightforward answer is that you can expect to call your instructors in college “professor.” 

Most professors with doctorate degrees will request you call them Doctor, and rightfully so after earning their degrees. Others might want you to call them Professor or would prefer just their first name. 

But they may be preferred to be called something else, and it’s okay to ask.

Keep in mind the difference between teachers and professors when making your choice, though. “Teacher” may come off as disrespectful to community college teachers, in particular, as community college teacher Alexander Bolyanatz explains in his essay “Please Don’t Call Me Teacher” (source).


Those who teach at a post-secondary level are most usually considered professors. This is regardless of the affluence the school they’re instructing at has. College instructors are considered professors in a community college or a top-tier private university.

When referring to your college instructor, it’s a good rule of thumb to ask what they’d prefer to be referred to as on the first day. Some professors hold doctorate degrees, so they might want to be called doctors, while others would just prefer you call them by their first name.

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