Money Matters: Do Online Education Master’s Degrees Pay Off?
You’ve decided to go back to school, sifted through your options and compiled a list of preferred master’s in education programs. Now, for the nitty-gritty details like program costs, there's a whole new set of questions: Can I really afford grad school? How will I pay for it? Is it even worth it? These are fair questions, but researching the long-term economics of master’s degrees can put things in perspective. Let’s play the numbers game.
By the Numbers
The first thing prospective students usually check when running the economics of graduate school is tuition and fees. These figures make up the bulk of a degree’s cost, and can add up quickly. Say a school charges about $300 per credit-hour, and your chosen program requires 48 hours of study. Basic math says that a degree would cost $14,400, but that does not tell the whole story. Books, materials and living costs matter, too, and should be factored into the budget. On the other hand, students attending online programs can avoid parking fees and transportation costs, and, thanks to flexible scheduling, can often work to offset costs. Another perk: online programs may charge in-state tuition, and may offer financial aid counseling. Some school districts and private employers have tuition assistance or reimbursement programs that help employees pay for coursework related to their jobs. Consider all these variables when weighing costs.
Return on Investment
A graduate degree cost-benefit analysis requires considering the long-term payoff. Nothing is guaranteed, but research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that earnings and employment rates generally improve with education, regardless of the field. Additional research from the National Council on Teacher Quality and the National Center for Education Statistics confirms that the trend tends to hold true for education professionals specifically. Why? Master’s degrees build knowledge and keep skills current, and they also show employers evidence of professional dedication. Potential salary gains may be particularly apparent among those who intend to use online master’s in education degrees as stepping stones to advanced or administrative careers, which often require this type of training at minimum.
This breakdown of 2013 salaries for various occupations highlights how earnings change as education professionals climb through the ranks:
||Top 10 %
|Middle School Teacher
|Secondary School Teacher
|Postsecondary Education Teacher
|Education Administrator, K-12
|Education Administrator, Postsecondary
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2013
As suggested by the numbers, educators who make the leap from K-12 to postsecondary classrooms, and from teaching to administration, tend to see a major increase in earnings. Because college instructors and administrators of all levels are usually required to hold at least a master’s degree to enter the field, these trends illustrate the potential benefits of additional training. Also, the NCTQ and the NCES confirm that teachers who stay in the classroom usually earn more with master’s degrees, even among new teachers with no experience.