Does a Master’s in Education Increase a Teacher’s Salary?

A masters in education increases salaries.

The good news is, yes. A master’s in education does increase teacher’s salaries, across the board. The bad news is, not by as much as one would hope. Teacher salaries vary greatly depending on a variety of factors including location, experience, employer type, and school size. Private parochial schools tend to pay the least. Non-religious private school teachers and public school teachers make the most. Teacher pay also often depends on the location. Schools are largely funded by property taxes in the United States. This means schools in wealthier areas, with higher property values, often have better funded schools. This means more money for teacher pay. Another difference is in subject and specialization. Math and science teachers tend to make a bit more than teachers of other subjects, as math and science tend to be less popular majors. High school teachers make a little bit more than elementary teachers. But on average, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, it’s only a difference of about $1,000 per year. Also, according to the BLS, special education teachers, who must have a master’s degree, earn the same median pay as other teachers, all else being equal. The article following will break down the levels of teacher pay and the differences between a bachelor’s and master’s degree in greater detail below.

This article will address only the salaries of primary and secondary education teachers. These are the main areas where a master of education is applied, as in order to teach any subject more advanced than general education in college at any serious level generally requires a Ph.D.

Master’s in education degrees open up doors to opportunities for career advancements, increased responsibility, potential leadership positions, and all kinds of things that aren’t available to somebody without an advanced degree.

Master’s in Education: The Basics

First, while no states require a master’s in education to start teaching, in Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts all K-12 teachers are required to earn a master’s degree within five years of beginning their career (marked by the signing of their first teaching contract). One of the perks of working in one of these states is that they often offer some reimbursement for the tuition cost of your master’s degree. Any teachers in any state who teach special education are required to earn their master’s degree. And almost all states have continuing education requirements for teachers. This requirement can be filled by means other than a master’s degree. But since a master’s in education degree is good for your career, most teachers opt to fulfill these requirements by earning their master’s. In short, what this means is that it’s not so much a question of whether or not to earn a master’s in education degree if you are a teacher. The question is when to earn yours. The answer requires us to analyse some basic salary information, which we do in the following section.

Master’s in Education: The Fundamental Factors for Choosing When to Earn Yours

The numbers we use in this section are sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Teachers with 1 year or less experience and a bachelor’s degree earn an average salary of $42,130 per year. Teachers with 1 year or less experience and a master’s degree earn an average salary of $49,310 per year. This amounts to about a $7,000 difference (16%). This gap stays roughly the same as pay increases for both for the first nine years of a teacher’s career. Once the teacher enters the middle of their career, the 10-14 year mark, a teacher without a master’s makes $50,000 per year, and the teacher with a master’s is making $61,000 per year. A 22% difference.

So, what’s the best strategy for when to earn your master’s? There are two main options. Anything other than these two options results in a loss over the course of your career.

The first is to earn your master’s in a dual degree program. There are many 4+1 programs that allow you to start working on your master’s in your senior year of college, and finish in your fifth year of college. This is a year less than earning your bachelor’s full-time, then your master’s full-time (though there are some master’s in education programs available online that can be completed in one year, doing things the above way is less intensive).

The second option is to graduate with your bachelor’s in four years and start teaching, while also immediately starting your master’s degree part time. Doing things this way allows you to start earning a professional salary a year earlier, which will make up for the extra pay you may earn with a master’s degree as long as you complete your degree within five years of starting your career (many part-time master’s in education degrees can be earned in two years’ time). As I said, these are the two best options for maximizing your earnings from your early career, which is somewhat important for teachers as they unfortunately do not earn as much as many other professions which require a master’s degree.

Which master’s in education degree pays best?

Whether you’re majoring in a specific subject (math, history, any of the given sciences, English), curriculum design, or special education, they all lead to just about the same salary. However, there is one exception. It turns out if you want to earn money with a master’s in education, the best way to do it is not to teach, but to manage. Administration pays way better than teaching. The median income for a K-12 principal is $96,000 per year. The top 10% earnings for administrators is $148,000 per year. So if you’re not married to teaching, but still want to work in education, you can earn a master’s of education in leadership or administration, and become a principal or even eventually a superintendent. A master’s degree and at least five years of teaching experience are required to become a principal. However it’s more common for teachers to become a vice principal first, and then move into the principal role later. It’s also not uncommon for teachers to earn their master’s in education in another subject, and then a second master’s or even doctorate in education administration before making the transition. Earning a doctorate in education administration also provides you with the opportunity to conduct research that can change the nature of education, or to work in colleges in administrative positions.

Once I earn my master’s, will my salary jump up to a higher level automatically?

The short answer is, maybe. This will vary from school to school. Some will have salary increases for teachers who complete their master’s degree. Sometimes this increase will not meet with the national average. You also have to consider the average in your geographic location. How much do teachers with master’s degrees make there? Will your new salary be at the same level or lower? It’s possible you may have to switch schools or even districts after you complete your master’s, in order to trigger an appropriately sized salary increase.

One thing you can do is get heavily involved with your teacher’s union. You can even consider an additional degree in education policy. If you work with your union you may, in time, be able to take a job with the union to help with organizing teachers at the local, state, and national levels. We have mentioned here and there that teacher pay is, generally speaking, not great, all things considered. The unions work to improve the situation of teachers throughout the country. You can work with unions on many levels, from volunteer to paid positions. It’s a good idea to be involved with your union (beyond simple membership) regardless of whether or not you intend to work with them. But national union reps can earn salaries upwards of $83,000 per year. So if money is a major concern, transitioning to working for your union is a great way to use your experience and education to benefit teachers around the United States.

Conclusion

Master’s in education degrees open up doors to opportunities for career advancements, increased responsibility, potential leadership positions, and all kinds of things that aren’t available to somebody without an advanced degree. Education is a field where earning an advanced degree is absolutely required in order to have any hope of career advancement. All of the best positions in the most competitive school districts will require a master’s in education. So our advice is to get one as soon as possible. There’s no point in putting it off. Earning your master’s, and even eventually doctorate in education over time, is your best path to the best education jobs in the world.

Bambi Majumdar
Author

Melissa Anderson
Expert

Julie McCaulley
Editor-in-Chief