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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Education degrees don't pay: What can we do about it?


Photo: Adam Winger/Unsplash

"Majoring in education has a near ZERO return on investment for lifetime earnings," notes Matthew Kraft, citing a new report that compared education graduates to similar young people who didn't pursue a degree.


Chad Aldeman asks what to do about it.


Raising teacher pay isn't an easy answer, he writes. "When school districts are given more money, and even sometimes when that funding increase is specifically sold as a raise for teachers, the money still doesn’t end up in the pockets of individual teachers," his research shows. Schools tend to add support staff, "and state leaders have allowed pension costs to eat into the money available for base salaries."


What about forgiving teachers' loans?


Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recently touted the fact that the federal government forgave a teacher’s $74,000 student loan debt thanks to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. That’s… a lot of money. Was this a good investment of public dollars? Not necessarily.

Aldeman wants to stop requiring teachers to get useless degrees, so they won't run up big debts. For example, "there’s no evidence that master’s degree programs make people better teachers, on average," he writes. Why require advanced degrees or reward them with higher pay when there's no evidence students benefit?


Some teacher-prep programs "saddle teacher candidates with sky-high debt burdens" they'll struggle to pay back, writes Aldeman.


"At the private, for-profit Strayer University, students took out an average of $81,000 in loans to earn a Master’s in Educational Administration and Supervision. Four years after completing their degree, the average (employed) graduate was earning just $46,000," according to the HEA group’s data. Graduates who "earned the same diploma from the nonprofit Western Governors University left with a debt load of just under $13,000," and were earning an average of $73,000 four years later.


Aldeman suggests limiting the amount people can borrow, rather than loaning them money for low-quality programs and then forgiving the loans.


Lots of people want to teach, he writes elsewhere. Enrollment in traditional, university-based teacher training programs is up a little. Enrollment in alternative programs is up sharply.

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8 Comments


Richard Rider
Richard Rider
3 days ago

My career teacher wife, a longtime mentor teacher, agrees with you. Especially after she taught for several years in the "edubabble" 5th year teacher certification program at a state university.

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buy
7 days ago

That is completely the wrong question. The correct question is how do ed schools make people better at teaching (if they do so at all)?


What is needed is to get rid of the current system almost entirely and build alternative certification systems. Have people certify in a handful of things (eg. child psych, first aid, curriculum training), then put them with a mentor to learn how to manage a classroom. This would cost the new teacher less and would focus the training on actual training.


Ann in L.A.

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Richard Rider
Richard Rider
May 15

I agree that having a Masters does NOT make a teacher any better. They are taught what I call "edubabble," spouting the buzzwords that please the professors teaching these largely useless courses. That being said, it seldom costs teachers much to get that MA while teaching. They go to a local public college, or even take online courses. The tuition is a minor cost compared to the pay increase. BTW, years ago my teacher wife picked up extra credits by going on vacation to England. She took a "course" in studying Shakespeare theatres and performances -- designed specifically for American teachers. We figured that we covered the cost of the 3 week course INCLUDING travel and lodging with the resulting pay increase…

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
May 16
Replying to

In general, the average American school district's incompetence shows in its contracting: if you recognize master's degrees in subjects of instruction, rather than in education, and you pay an extra increment only for instructors of college-level content, in subjects like calculus-based physics -- which is standard policy in the baccalaureate schools found among America's economic competitors -- then you'll find the return on investment lacking in the standard waste that is the local school board's collective bargaining agreements.

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Richard Rider
Richard Rider
May 15

This study -- like ALL studies of teacher pay -- is deeply flawed and flat out wrong. It looks only at pay -- ignoring other factors. 1. Teachers get 3 months off a year. That's IN ADDITION to the month off due to education holidays (more than what most private sector workers get for vacation). That's a HUGE benefit that none of these studies consider. 2. Usually after 2 years on the job, teachers cannot be fired. Most private sector workers are laid off AT LEAST once in their careers. Or their employer goes out of business. 3. Compared to private sector workers, teacher benefits -- particularly health coverage and GUARANTEED pensions (as opposed to 401k plans) with some COL protection built i…

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Richard Rider
Richard Rider
May 15
Replying to

MY RESPONSE: 1. Teachers usually can have their pay distributed monthly rather than tenthly (assuming they can't budget). 2. Teachers can work in the summer, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. They can teach summer school, or work at some other job. In the old days, this was common practice. 3. Teacher pensions are only partially funded by the teachers' contributions. About 1/3 of the funding, at best. MUCH more lucrative than 401k plans. 4. Teachers who quit early get ALL their pension contributions back with some interest. 5. Most teacher pensions vest in 3-5 years. 6. Most teachers who quit do so in the first 5 years. Teaching is a challenging job and not for everyone. After 5 years, almost NO ONE quits. NOTE: As a CFP consultan…

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m_t_anderson
May 15

This is what engineers call a Hard Problem, one not amenable to a simple fix. My meager contributions are three: (1) do some "truth in advertising" in college for education measures, e.g. "becoming a teacher is a vow of poverty" and (2) do something to interrupt the STEM to business to education major pipeline that so clearly identifies an ed major as the "degree of last resort, and (3) stop favoring education majors over other majors for teachers; this is old MBA Fallacy, people who know process, but not content.

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