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Teacher Salary with a Master’s Degree

About one-third of all state education boards  include the achievement of a master’s degree in their licensing hierarchy for teachers, either as a way to pursue optional advancement or a requirement for maintaining licensure. While currently just three states (Connecticut, Maryland, and New York) require a master’s degree to maintain a teacher’s license, another 15 encourage teachers to earn a master’s degree by making it a required step for any teacher ambitious enough to pursue an advanced license. And as it turns out, there are a lot of very ambitious teachers out there glad to take that step. In fact, of the 3.8 million teachers in the U.S., 47 percent hold master’s degrees.

Is a master’s degree worth it? Will the time and expense that go into earning a master’s degree pay off? That’s the big question on a lot of teacher’s minds.

A Closer Look at How a Master’s Degree Factors into Standard Pay Structures

In all states, a bachelor’s degree as part of a teacher preparatory program will qualify you for initial state certification/licensure as a teacher.

While many teachers know that returning to school to earn their master’s degree will elevate their teaching style and ultimately make them a better educator, it must also make good, financial sense.

According to a 2019 analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality that studied the 100 largest school districts in the nation and the largest district in each state, earning a graduate degree remains one of the primary ways that teachers earn higher salaries.

The study found that about 61% of all large school districts use standard pay scales for teachers that include “lanes” and “steps,” with teachers falling into a particular lane based on the degree they hold or other college credits they may have. Over the course of their careers they would then move through incremental step increases according to experience.

The remaining schools in the study use non-traditional salary schedules based largely on performance pay and some choose not to publish salary schedules, instead leaving it in the hands of the school board to determine annual raises.

Does a Master’s Degree End Up Paying for Itself with Salary Increases?

Another 2019 National Council on Teacher Quality study of 124 large school districts throughout the country found that 92% of all districts paid their teachers more for holding an advanced degree. While the majority of these districts (58%) used the “lane” and “step” type of salary schedule that’s built around higher levels of education and credits, about 33% paid out a flat stipend/bonus to teachers each year for their advanced degrees.

This means that in most school districts throughout the country, a master’s degree will give you a pay bump. That’s good news. But…

…with an average student debt load of $38,000 for teachers who have earned their master’s degree, will the increase in salary pay off in the long run?

That depends.

On average, the NCTQ reports that teachers with a master’s degree earn, on average, $5,285 more annually than teachers with a bachelor’s degree as their highest degree. This means that over the course of a teacher’s career, a master’s educator will make an average of nearly $160,000 more than a bachelor’s educator.

With an average student loan debt of $38,000 for teachers who have earned their master’s degree, this means it takes about eight years to “break even,” or pay off their debt and move into the black. In most educators’ eyes, that makes a master’s degree a good financial investment.

But averages tend to gloss over the fact that many school districts offer much lower and much higher financial incentives for teachers who pursue a master’s degree, either pre- or post-licensure.

On the low end of the scale, a master’s degree may result in little to no pay increase. For example, there is no salary difference between bachelor’s teachers and master’s teachers in the Dallas Independent School District, while in the Mesa Public School District, master’s educators earn just $1,000 more per year than their bachelor’s colleagues, regardless of their level of experience. Accumulate student loan debt of $38,000 in the Mesa Public School District and you’ll be lucky to pay it off before you retire.

The Answer to the Big Question “Is It Worth It?” May Come Down to Where You Teach

But on the opposite end of the scale, a master’s degree can mean a pay increase of as much as $10,000, $20,000 or more – annually! For example, teachers fresh out of college in the Billings Public Schools will earn $8,430 more annually than their bachelor’s colleagues if they have a master’s degree. Among the most experienced teachers in the Billings school district, a master’s degree equates to a salary that’s nearly $15,000 more annually than a bachelor’s degree.

Below is a sample of some of the nation’s large school districts that offer large pay increases for master’s-prepared educators:

(Min-max difference in annual pay between a teacher with a BA and a teacher with an MA)

  • Billings Public Schools (Billings, MT): $8,430 – $14,784
  • Bismarck Public Schools (Bismarck, ND): $5,144 – $26,762
  • Cherry Creek School District (Aurora, Littleton, Englewood, CO): $4,729 – $13,030
  • Dekalb County School District (Decatur, GA): $2,859 – $11,064
  • District of Columbia Public Schools: $3,680 – $20,476
  • Elk Grove Unified School District (Sacramento, CA): $1,390 – $19,864
  • Fairfax County Public School (Reston, Herndon VA): $5,628 – $21,725
  • Granite School District (Salt Lake City, UT): $4,301 – $10,623
  • Howard County Public School System (MD): $3,414 – $34,677
  • Montgomery County Public Schools (Columbia, MD): $4,984 – $36,716
  • Omaha Public Schools (Omaha, NE): $4,100 -$10,660
  • Portland Public Schools (Portland, OR): $7,847 – $11,727
  • Prince George County Public Schools (Bowie, MD): $4,898 – $25,471
  • Red Clay Consolidated School District (Wilmington, DE): $4,662 – $14,629
  • Santa Ana Unified School District (Santa Ana, CA): $1,565 – $48,854
  • Seattle Public Schools (Seattle, WA): $8,945 – $20,712
  • Springfield Public School District (Springfield, MO): $3,830 – $17,178
  • Washoe County Public Schools (Reno, NV): $4,880 – $12,536
  • Alpine School District (Provo, Lehi, Orem UT): $1,662 – $17,172
  • Anchorage School District (Anchorage, AK): $5,458 – $12,101
  • Anne Arundel County Public Schools (Annapolis, MD): $3,754 – $24,719
  • Anoka-Hennepin School District (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN): $5,998 – $13,779
  • Baltimore County Public Schools (Baltimore, MD): $1,108 – $36,364
  • Burlington School District (Burlington, VT): $7,114 – $18,743

Master’s Prepared Teachers: What They’re Earning and Where

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides the most current, accurate look at what U.S. teachers are earning at all points on the salary scale, by state and by grade level.

Although the BLS doesn’t break down salaries by degree level, it does provide a salary range for teachers at the top of the pay scale: those in the upper quadrant (75th – 90th percentile).

Because the majority of school districts use a prescriptive salary schedule that includes “step” and “level” increments as educators earn higher levels of education and experience, this salary range is representative of those with considerable experience and advanced degrees (master’s degrees and higher).

The 75th percentile offers a glimpse into what you can expect to earn as an educator with a master’s degree, while the 90th percentile provides a good idea of your earning power as you gain more experience.

A broad overview looking at national salary ranges reveals that teachers in the 75th percentile earn more than $75,780, while those in the 90th percentile earn more than $96,330.

By grade level, ranges for master’s-educated teachers look like this:

  • Elementary school teachers: $77,400 – $97,900
  • Middle school teachers: $76,430 – $96,280
  • High school teachers: $79,820 – $99,660

Compare that to the 25th percentile – median salary ranges that bachelor’s-educated teachers can expect:

  • Elementary school teachers: $47,300 – $59,670
  • Middle school teachers: $47,850 – $59,660
  • High school teachers: $49,060 – $61,660

State-by-State Guide to Salaries for Master’s-Prepared Elementary School Teachers

With a master’s degree, elementary school teachers can expect to earn somewhere in the range of $77,400 – $97,900 on a national basis, versus the $47,300 to $59,670 they might earn with a bachelor’s. On a state-by-state basis, here’s what you can expect to earn as an elementary school teacher with a master’s degree (75th-90thpercentile salary range):

  • Alabama: $58,220 – $62,440
  • Alaska: $90,410 – $104,300
  • Arizona: $50,970 – $60,970
  • Arkansas: $56,460 – $63,140
  • California: $99,160 – $117,650
  • Colorado: $64,890 – $78,580
  • Connecticut: $94,190 – $103,480
  • Delaware: $77,090 – $89,840
  • District of Columbia: $98,080 – $117,780
  • Florida: $69,500 – $79,640
  • Georgia: $69,440 – $79,340
  • Hawaii: $73,870 – $81,700
  • Idaho: $58,730 – $72,400
  • Illinois: $79,530 – $97,680
  • Indiana: $61,910 – $75,830
  • Iowa: $63,430 – $75,430
  • Kansas: $58,230 – $66,690
  • Kentucky: $60,570 – $66,710
  • Louisiana: $54,560 – $61,210
  • Maine: $64,470 – $75,560
  • Maryland: $90,660 – $109,610
  • Massachusetts: $99,880 – $122,660
  • Michigan: $84,800 – $101,330
  • Minnesota: $76,530 – $92,280
  • Mississippi: $50,440 – $59,950
  • Missouri: $59,340 – $78,780
  • Montana: $64,050 – $76,990
  • Nebraska: $71,260 – $84,810
  • Nevada: $66,910 – $77,820
  • New Hampshire: $71,780 – $80,160
  • New Jersey: $85,110 – $99,020
  • New Mexico: $66,660 – $84,730
  • New York: $106,100 – $127,660
  • North Carolina: $56,640 – $63,050
  • North Dakota: $63,380 – $77,630
  • Ohio: $77,770 – $91,470
  • Oklahoma: $51,590 – $68,600
  • Oregon: $86,470 – $107,850
  • Pennsylvania: $82,800 – $100,870
  • Rhode Island: $90,310 – $98,980
  • South Carolina: $63,010 – $78,960
  • South Dakota: $50,220 – $58,520
  • Tennessee: $61,900 – $73,610
  • Texas: $62,250 – $71,940
  • Utah: $73,460 – $94,390
  • Vermont: $76,030 – $95,770
  • Virginia: $85,270 – $106,430
  • Washington: $81,850 – $96,820
  • West Virginia: $51,210 – $59,760
  • Wisconsin: $69,270 – $79,270
  • Wyoming: $66,790 – $76,130

State-by-State Guide to Salaries for Master’s-Prepared Middle School Teachers

With a master’s degree, middle school teachers can expect to earn somewhere in the range of $76,430 – $96,280 on a national basis, versus the $47,850 – $59,660 they would likely make with a bachelor’s. On a state-by-state basis, here’s what you can expect to earn as a middle school teacher with a master’s degree (75th-90th percentile salary range):

  • Alabama: $59,070 – $62,820
  • Alaska: $95,650 – $114,710
  • Arizona: $50,570 – $61,240
  • Arkansas: $58,960 – $66,880
  • California: $95,980 – $107,760
  • Colorado: $65,170 – $78,840
  • Connecticut: $95,480 – $106,140
  • Delaware: $76,900 – $86,780
  • District of Columbia: $92,950 – $106,990
  • Florida: $66,700 – $79,450
  • Georgia: $70,730 – $81,600
  • Hawaii: $74,820 – $83,640
  • Idaho: $65,160 – $77,290
  • Illinois: $77,580 – $96,860
  • Indiana: $62,270 – $75,190
  • Iowa: $67,590 – $78,980
  • Kansas: $60,920 – $74,040
  • Kentucky: $61,260 – $70,220
  • Louisiana: $56,350 – $91,980
  • Maine: $67,860 – $77,010
  • Maryland: $90,520 – $111,400
  • Massachusetts: $96,030 – $115,700
  • Michigan: $78,980 – $94,000
  • Minnesota: $79,260 – $97,660
  • Mississippi: $55,270 – $64,260
  • Missouri: $60,760 – $78,380
  • Montana: $73,480 – $85,970
  • Nebraska: $73,200 – $85,120
  • Nevada: $70,170 – $78,950
  • New Hampshire: $72,880 – $81,420
  • New Jersey: $87,150 – $99,320
  • New Mexico: $57,270 – $63,180
  • New York: $108,850 – $127,630
  • North Carolina: $57,570 – $64,300
  • North Dakota: $68,530 – $84,160
  • Ohio: $76,700 – $89,990
  • Oklahoma: $52,020 – $67,070
  • Oregon: $88,540 – $104,050
  • Pennsylvania: $86,060 – $107,570
  • Rhode Island: $91,490 – $99,590
  • South Carolina: $63,160 – $77,390
  • South Dakota: $50,410 – $58,500
  • Tennessee: $61,860 – $73,820
  • Texas: $62,330 – $72,260
  • Utah: $76,280 – $91,100
  • Vermont: $73,170 – $85,320
  • Virginia: $88,190 – $109,710
  • Washington: $83,920 – $99,130
  • West Virginia: $55,070 – $62,200
  • Wisconsin: $70,000 – $80,060
  • Wyoming: $70,220 – $78,020

State-by-State Guide to Salaries for Master’s-Prepared High School Teachers

At the high school level, teachers who hold a master’s degree generally earn somewhere in the range of $79,820 – $99,660 nationally. Compare that to the $49,060 – $61,660 they would likely make with a bachelor’s. On a state-by-state basis, here’s what you can expect to earn as a high school teacher with a master’s degree (75th-90th percentile salary range):

  • Alabama: $59,190 – $63,490
  • Alaska: $91,030 – $104,760
  • Arizona: $59,310 – $71,130
  • Arkansas: $60,400 – $70,170
  • California: $99,950 – $115,360
  • Colorado: $67,900 – $80,790
  • Connecticut: $94,910 – $105,110
  • Delaware: $78,590 – $91,330
  • District of Columbia: $81,050 – $99,890
  • Florida: $69,720 – $80,670
  • Georgia: $71,990 – $80,920
  • Hawaii: $73,740 – $84,090
  • Idaho: $60,580 – $73,300
  • Illinois: $94,950 – $118,760
  • Indiana: $64,120 – $76,230
  • Iowa: $66,990 – $79,740
  • Kansas: $30,320 – $71,800
  • Kentucky: $62,650 – $73,270
  • Louisiana: $58,830 – $65,110
  • Maine: $65,810 – $75,880
  • Maryland: $93,990 – $110,480
  • Massachusetts: $97,160 – $116,770
  • Michigan: $76,980 – $91,550
  • Minnesota: $78,110 – $94,280
  • Mississippi: $54,910 – $63,610
  • Missouri: $57,020 – $79,710
  • Montana: $65,970 – $79,540
  • Nebraska: $71,600 – $79,560
  • Nevada: $68,530 – $75,590
  • New Hampshire: $72,670 – $80,600
  • New Jersey: $93,880 – $105,550
  • New Mexico: $64,220 – $84,930
  • New York: $109,700 – $129,350
  • North Carolina: $58,000 – $64,620
  • North Dakota: $65,220 – $77,940
  • Ohio: $77,100 – $90,300
  • Oklahoma: $54,210 – $68,240
  • Oregon: $88,200 – $105,340
  • Pennsylvania: $80,260 – $96,880
  • Rhode Island: $92,730 – $100,310
  • South Carolina: $67,340 – $81,630
  • South Dakota: $50,490 – $59,170
  • Tennessee: $63,700 – $76,290
  • Texas: $64,040 – $75,910
  • Utah: $72,320 – $91,250
  • Vermont: $80,090 – $96,780
  • Virginia: $82,490 – $106,430
  • Washington: $84,070 – $98,570
  • West Virginia: $54,050 – $61,700
  • Wisconsin: $69,790 – $79,620
  • Wyoming: $70,750 – $78,080

 

Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which elementary school teachers work. BLS salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. 

Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which middle school teachers work. BLS salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. 

Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which secondary school teachers work. BLS salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. 

All salary and employment data accessed October 2020.