Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our annual Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
Just like in every other field of professional endeavor, there are well-paid and successful IT workers who don’t have an academic degree from a four-year or two-year program of study at a college or university. It’s understandable: The direct cost of obtaining such an academic degree is prohibitively high for many, and that’s to say nothing of the myriad incidental expenses of “going to college.”
Observers sometimes extrapolate such incidental evidence to mean that one doesn’t really need a college or university degree to forge a successful IT career. “If [person I know] didn’t have to go to four years (or two years) of college to get a job and work in IT, then why would any have to spend time at a college or university?” That sort of thing.
Whether an individual IT worker actually has a college degree, of course, is an entirely separate conversation from whether an individual IT worker needs a college degree to succeed. We can’t make a case for or against needing a degree to succeed in IT, or at least we can’t really do that using data from the Salary Survey. The best we could do is to suggest some level of correlations.
On the other hand, we can absolutely talk about how many of the certified IT professionals who participated in the survey have some level of college degree attainment in their educational background. That’s just talking about numbers.
One thing the numbers tell us is that, among 2021 survey respondents, more than 85 percent of individuals who have at least one current IT certification, work full-time, and live in the United States, have also completed some level of college degree: associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, doctorate, or professional degree (such as in law or medicine).
That leaves about 14 percent of individuals who meet those same criteria — at least one current cert, full-time job, live in the United States — who never completed any level of degree, even if they spent some time at a college or university. (Which some of them probably did. Even Mark Zuckerberg, for example, was actually a student at Harvard before dropping out to start Facebook.)
We don’t ask for a complete educational history in the survey, so we can’t say exactly who holds which kind(s) of degrees. We do ask each participant to report the highest level of education they’ve completed. So to break it down on that level, among U.S. respondents employed full-time who have at least one current IT certification, here’s what we know:
Level of Educational Attainment — Percentage of Full-Time, IT Certified U.S. Workers at This Level
Professional Degree — 0.6 percent
Doctorate — 2.7 percent
Master’s Degree — 33.6 percent
Bachelor’s Degree — 40 percent
Associate’s Degree — 9.6 percent
Technical Training (No college degree) — 7.9 percent
High School Diploma — 3.8 percent
Currently in school — 1.6 percent
No formal education before entering the workforce — 0.2 percent
Here’s what we get if we put non-U.S. professionals who participated in the survey under the same lens:
Level of Educational Attainment — Percentage of Full-Time, IT Certified non-U.S. Workers at This Level
Professional Degree — 3.3 percent
Doctorate — 1.6 percent
Master’s Degree — 37.3 percent
Bachelor’s Degree — 41.9 percent
Associate’s Degree — 3.9 percent
Technical Training (No college degree) — 6.1 percent
High School Diploma — 5.3 percent
Currently in school — 0.1 percent
No formal education before entering the workforce — 0.5 percent
So that’s 88 percent of non-U.S. certified IT pros with full-time jobs who completed some level of college degree.
It’s abundantly clear from those numbers that certified IT professionals with no college degree of any kind can and do successfully get full-time jobs. On the other hand, far, far more of our 2021 Salary Survey participants (more than 4,000 certified IT professionals in all) have degrees than do not have them. Which says something.