NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is the Master's Degree Pay Bump Worth the Cost?

June 11, 2014

Empirical research has repeatedly found that teachers with master's degrees are no more effective than teachers without them, yet schools continue to pay teachers more based on their advanced degrees, explains Matthew Chingos, fellow in the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

Of 112 major American school districts, 96 percent pay teachers with master's degrees more than teachers with only bachelor's degrees, resulting in an average $3,205 salary difference in the first year of teaching and up to $8,411 at the high end of the salary schedule. But the impact of the pay bump varies among districts: In three Maryland districts, teachers can see a pay bump of more than $30,000 for holding master's degree.

With these incentives in place, almost half of all American teachers held a master's degree in the 2011-2012 school year. But with skyrocketing education costs, is the pay bump worth the sometimes $50,000 cost to attain the degrees?

Comparing school district salary information with the cost of a master's degree near each district, Chingos concluded that a teacher in the average school district would have to remain in his teaching position for nine years, simply to break even on the tuition cost of the degree. For teachers who plan to spend only 10 years in their field, the master's degree is likely a waste of money.

In the field of education, Chingos writes, a master's degree does not improve a teacher's effectiveness on the job. North Carolina is the first state to turn this reality into policy, doing away with the master's degree pay bump in 2013.

Source: Matthew M. Chingos, "Who Profits from the Master's Degree Pay Bump for Teachers?" Education Next, June 6, 2014. 


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