Salary Survey Extra: The impact on income of formal education

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Salary Survey Extra is a series of periodic dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

Does how much formal education you have influence your IT earning power? Let's take a look.Within the tech industry, as is the case in many industry sectors, it’s often expected of job applicants that they hold a university degree. Graduating from a university or college, on the other hand, is not essential to acquiring IT skills and knowledge. There are many specialized schools and programs — including certification programs — that teach computer skills.

There’s also plenty of room for individuals who acquired a basic (or even advanced) understanding of computers and technology by the time they exited the public education system and built up their skills from there. On-the-job training and career development activities — including certification programs — can provide all the deeper learning that some people will ever need.

There are, of course, numerous intangible benefits of pursuing formal education to its uppermost echelons. And probably almost everyone who embarks down that road has loftier aims than to just increase the likelihood of a hefty eventual salary.

It’s worth at least looking at the state of things, however, to take a guess at whether money spent on IT education equates to money earned in the IT workplace. We asked Salary Survey respondents to identify the highest level of formal education they’ve completed. The breakdown, with U.S. respondents separated from those chiming in from other nations, is as follows:

United States — What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
Bachelor’s degree: 39.8 percent
Master’s degree: 29.2 percent
Two-year college degree: 10.7 percent
Technical training (no college degree): 10.4 percent
High school diploma: 4.3 percent
Currently in school: 3.1 percent
Doctorate: 1.6 percent
Professional degree (such as for law or medicine): 0.8 percent
No formal education prior to entering the workforce: 0.1 percent

All Non-U.S. Countries — What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
Bachelor’s degree: 41.4 percent
Master’s degree: 37.2 percent
High school diploma: 6 percent
Technical training (no college degree): 5.4 percent
Two-year college degree: 4.5 percent
Professional degree (such as for law or medicine): 3.1 percent
Doctorate: 1.6 percent
No formal education prior to entering the workforce: 0.5 percent
Currently in school: 0.3 percent

We’ve chosen not to consider the salary data from groups smaller than two percent of their respective survey populations. That leaves us with the following:

AVERAGE ANNUAL SALARY INDEXED BY HIGHEST LEVEL OF FORMAL EDUCATION

UNITED STATESALL OTHER COUNTRIES
Highest Level of EducationSalaryHighest Level of EducationSalary
Bachelor’s degree$105,190Bachelor’s degree$57,270
Master’s degree$115,770Master’s degree$67,410
Two-year college degree$85,440Two-year college degree$68,305
Technical training$94,470Technical training$70,840
High school diploma$102,070High school diploma$55,190
Currently in school$87,830Professional degree$59,505
Insufficient data: Doctorate, professional degree, no formal education prior to entering the workforceInsufficient data: Doctorate, currently in school, no formal education prior to entering the workforce

2019 Salary Data

It would seem clear that you don’t have to attend a college or university to make your way in the IT realm. The sample size is small, but U.S. IT workers whose furthest foray into higher education was either completing high school or completing technical training (typically one or more certifications) are doing just fine for themselves.

Outside the United States, the best educational value available, at least in terms of future earning potential, would appear to be a post-high school technical training. And though nearly all non-U.S. IT workers who participated in the survey have either bachelor’s or master’s degree, there’s no clear indication that those pristine academic credentials provide assurance of earning power.

In the United States, on the other hand, it seems clear that advanced degrees do lead to substantially higher incomes. While the average annual salary of a U.S. bachelor’s degree holder is only marginally more impressive than that claimed by the admittedly much smaller class of high school-only survey respondents, holding a master’s degree is a status clearly preferred (and compensated accordingly) by U.S. employers.

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CertMag Staff

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Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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