Salary Survey Extra: IT salaries and formal education
Posted on
January 19, 2017

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 These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.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 impact of a college degree on IT salary?

Past work experience and past educational attainment are two of the biggest influences on hiring decisions, not just in IT, but across the employment spectrum. Work experience can be difficult to quantify in a survey — beyond simple factors like number of years worked — but educational background is far easier to pinpoint.

This is true in part because so many workers pursue education up to a readily identifiable point, and then transition to full-time employment. There are exceptions: Many adult workers eventually choose to further their education by returning to college. Others take an ongoing interest in learning by means of certification or other formal training.

The latter trend, in particular, is alive and well in the IT industry, where technology changes so rapidly that it's almost essential to keep learning just to stay afloat. On the other hand, while they continue to seek knowledge, most IT professionals can still point to a particular moment when their primary focus shifted from education to full-time employment.

We've drawn our usual line between U.S. survey respondents and those in other nations. When it comes to post-secondary education, however, the overall composition of both groups is notably similar. On the survey, we ask respondents to identify the highest level of formal education they've completed. The breakdown is as follows:

United States — What is the highest level of education you have completed?
Bachelor's degree: 36.2 percent
Master's degree: 35 percent
Two-year college degree: 9.9  percent
Technical training (no college degree): 8.4 percent
High school diploma: 3.6 percent
Currently in school: 3.1 percent
Doctorate: 1.7 percent
Professional degree (such as for law or medicine): 1 percent
No formal education prior to entering the workforce: 0.1 percent

All Non-U.S. Countries — What is the highest level of education you have completed?
Bachelor's degree: 43.6 percent
Master's degree: 31.9 percent
Two-year college degree: 7.1  percent
Technical training (no college degree): 5.6 percent
Professional degree (such as for law or medicine): 4.7 percent
High school diploma: 4.5 percent
Doctorate: 1.3 percent
Currently in school: 0.8 percent
No formal education prior to entering the workforce: 0.5 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:


Highest Level of Education Salary Highest Level of Education Salary
Bachelor’s degree $108,490 Bachelor’s degree $53,090
Master’s degree $124,320 Master’s degree $61,670
Two-year college degree $79,590 Two-year college degree $78,750
Technical training $97,750 Technical training $66,840
High school diploma $104,980 High school diploma $60,040
Currently in school $46,990 Professional degree $48,790
Insufficient data: Doctorate, professional degree, no formal education prior to entering the workforce Insufficient data: Doctorate, currently in school, no formal education prior to entering the workforce

2016 Salary Data

Survey data strongly indicates that you can make your way in the IT realm without necessarily completing a college education first. U.S. IT workers who entered the workforce directly from high school, in particular, as well as those whose only post-secondary education is technical training (typically one or more certifications), made a strong showing in our survey results.

Outside the United States, it would seem, there's a clear advantage to the briefer higher education interval of a two-year degree. And while an overwhelming majority of non-U.S. survey respondents hold bachelor's or master's degrees, it's far from clear that employers are giving degree holders preference when it comes to hiring and compensation.

In the United States, however, there's still a clear benefit to earning an advanced degree. While the average annual salary of a U.S. bachelor's degree holder is only somewhat more impressive than that claimed by the admittedly much smaller class of high school-only survey respondents, holding a master's degree is a status clearly preferred (and compensated accordingly) by U.S. employers.

About the Author

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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