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 These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
There are 12 canonical labors in the legend of Hercules, the Greek mythological hero whose name has become an adjective ("Herculean") used to describe nigh-impossible undertakings. Hercules had to slay some beasts and capture others. Rustle this legendary herd of horses, and clean up after that one. Steal a belt from the queen of the Amazons, steal some golden apples from the caretakers of a sacred forest. Standard-issue heroic tasks.
One thing that Hercules never did do, however, was attend college and get a degree. And a lot of would-be college graduates, confronted with the enormity of a yearslong investment of time, effort, and resources, can probably relate. Attending a university or other academic institution can be intimidating on a lot of different levels, including financially.
The financial burden of enrolling at an institution of higher learning and completing a degree program can be offset in various ways, but a lot of people look at all of those dollar signs and probably wonder whether they would be better off just getting a job and joining the workforce. Most people know, at least anecdotally, of this or that successful professional who either dropped out of college, or never went there in the first place.
The discussion about the necessity of an academic degree as a foundation for career success is sometimes louder and more energetic in IT circles than in other industries. Thanks to IT certification programs and similar career on-ramps like specialized computer skills academies, many question whether a four-year or two-year stopover at an institution of higher learning is really an essential piece of the IT career puzzle.
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. 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 correlation.
On the other hand, we can absolutely talk about how many of the certified IT professionals who participated in the 2023 Salary 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 2023 survey respondents, fractionally more than 90 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 roughly 10 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 billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison, for example, was actually a student at both University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and University of Chicago before dropping out to work in computer programming.)
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:
Highest Level of Educational Attainment — Percentage of Full-Time, IT Certified U.S. Workers at This Level
Professional Degree — 2.2 percent
Doctorate — 6.3 percent
Master’s Degree — 34.3 percent
Bachelor’s Degree — 38.3 percent
Associate’s Degree — 9.3 percent
Technical Training (No college degree) — 5.6 percent
High School Diploma — 2.9 percent
Currently in school — 1 percent
No formal education before entering the workforce — 0.1 percent
Here’s what we get if we put non-U.S. professionals who participated in the survey under the same lens:
Highest Level of Educational Attainment — Percentage of Full-Time, IT Certified non-U.S. Workers at This Level
Professional Degree — 4.2 percent
Doctorate — 2.6 percent
Master’s Degree — 34.1 percent
Bachelor’s Degree — 42.5 percent
Associate’s Degree — 5.5 percent
Technical Training (No college degree) — 5.2 percent
High School Diploma — 5.2 percent
Currently in school — 0.3 percent
No formal education before entering the workforce — 0.4 percent
So that’s 88.9 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 2023 Salary Survey participants (nearly 8,000 certified IT professionals in all) have degrees than do not have them. Which says something.