Earning your master’s degree in teaching or education can help you increase your salary and move up in your career. However, a graduate education is a financial investment, one that many workers in this notoriously underpaid profession struggle to be able to make. If you’re looking for financial assistance to earn a master’s degree, you might turn to the school or school district that employs you. Although the vast majority of school districts surveyed have reported paying more money to teachers after they earn a master’s degree, it’s much harder to put a precise number on the percentage of schools that offer tuition reimbursement and other tuition benefits to their teachers. Ultimately, you may have to look carefully to find the right school for you, if employer tuition benefits matter to you personally. Otherwise, you may need to be strategic about how you fund and how much debt you take on for your graduate education.
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Employer Tuition Benefits for Teachers
About half of all employers surveyed – across all industries, not just education – reported that they offer some form of tuition benefits or financial assistance for workers going back to school, according to U.S. News & World Report. These tuition benefits can take different forms. For example, the Camden County School District in New Jersey offers tuition reimbursement, meaning that the school district will send the employee a payment voucher for these benefits only after the teacher has paid for and completed the course. The School District of Philadelphia doesn’t offer tuition benefits in the form of reimbursement but instead offers considerable discounts on graduate studies at partner universities in the area.
Tuition benefits offered through your school district are usually subject to a number of conditions. When you accept financial assistance from any employer, there are typically strings attached. You may only be eligible if you have worked for the employer for a certain length of time, and in some cases, you must commit to continuing to work for the employer for a minimum amount of time after using the benefits. The St. Louis City and St. Louis County School Districts offer discounted tuition at the nearby Washington University in St. Louis, but only after an employee has worked for the school district for six months or more. Although most employer tuition discount and reimbursement programs through public schools apply to most education-focused programs of study, there may be some limits on the degrees you can pursue and the specific courses you can take.
Tuition benefits may not cover the entire cost of your education. Often, school districts that do offer tuition assistance have caps on the amount of financial assistance you can receive per course and per year, so it’s still in your best interest to choose an affordable school.
Finding a School That Will Pay for Your Master’s Degree
Suppose you know without a doubt that you want a graduate education. As you search for your first or next career opportunity in the classroom, researching which schools offer tuition assistance benefits is a smart idea. You may even choose to take a job where the salary is somewhat lower if the tradeoff is a more lucrative benefits package that includes generous tuition assistance benefits.
Some schools offer financial assistance for earning a graduate degree because they have trouble hiring or retaining teachers in their classrooms. With the nationwide teacher shortage continuing, school districts are getting creative in how they attract teaching talent, and that includes starting or expanding programs to help teachers pursue a master’s degree. Sometimes, this graduate degree is the key to making a career change through alternative route certification to attain an initial teaching license. Other times, schools are encouraging established teachers to develop skills in much-needed areas, including special education, foreign languages and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.
Some of the schools most in need of educators and willing to pay for teachers to earn master’s degrees have raised wages in an attempt to attract top educators, while others are so desperate for qualified talent because they offer lower wages.
Does a Master’s in Education Degree Pay for Itself?
Whether or not your employer helps pay for your graduate education, there’s a very good chance that your school district will pay you more once you complete that degree program. One study suggests that as many as 88 to 96 percent of schools surveyed offer a master’s degree pay bump for teachers.
The wage premiums associated with earning a master’s degree range from 24 percent for high school and special education teachers and 28 percent for elementary and middle school teachers to a stunning 43 percent for preschool and kindergarten school teachers, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. This salary boost translated to a difference of $10,000 to $13,000 in median salaries each year. Teachers who choose a moderately-priced university, rather than unnecessarily spending $30,000, $40,000 or even $50,000 to get their master’s degree, will likely see a great return on their investment.
There are other ways besides employer-sponsored tuition benefits to reduce the cost of your education, including scholarships and the federal TEACH grant.