Salary Survey Extra: The salary impact 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 These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

What is the bottom-line impact of entering the IT workforce forearmed with maximum attainment of formal education?Higher education is serious business, especially for the array of organizations that loaned out the more than $1.3 trillion owed by current and former students of U.S. colleges and universities. With the average educational institution attendee on the hook for roughly $37,000, getting a job after graduation is less a career choice than a binding financial imperative.

The staggering debt burden begs the question of whether getting a degree — or, in some cases, merely stopping the bleeding and surrendering the field — is worth the bottom-line investment. Do workers actually benefit, over the long run, from paying out the arm-and-a-leg amounts of cashola required to walk across the stage, shake someone’s hand, and then go outside and throw a cap in the air?

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 education you have completed?
Bachelor’s degree: 37.1 percent
Master’s degree: 34.4 percent
Two-year college degree: 10.2  percent
Technical training (no college degree): 9 percent
High school diploma: 3.5 percent
Doctorate: 2.5 percent
Professional degree (such as for law or medicine): 1.7 percent
Currently in school: 1.5 percent
No formal education prior to entering the workforce: .01 percent

All Non-U.S. Countries — What is the highest level of education you have completed?
Bachelor’s degree: 44.4 percent
Master’s degree: 32.2 percent
Technical training (no college degree): 8.5 percent
High school diploma: 5.2 percent
Professional degree (such as for law or medicine): 4.5 percent
Two-year college degree: 3.8  percent
Doctorate: 0.8 percent
Currently in school: 0.5 percent
No formal education prior to entering the workforce: 0.1 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$112,010Bachelor’s degree$46,920
Master’s degree$125,140Master’s degree$58,450
Two-year college degree$91,510Two-year college degree$69,820
Technical training$102,960Technical training$64,070
High school diploma$111,270High school diploma$56,560
Doctorate$146,200Professional degree$52,720
Insufficient data: Professional degree, currently in school, no formal education prior to entering the workforceInsufficient data: Doctorate, currently in school, no formal education prior to entering the workforce

2018 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 two-year degree. 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 barely more impressive than that claimed by the admittedly much smaller class of high school-only survey respondents, holding a master’s degree or doctorate 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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