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Perspective | Career benefits of a master’s in education

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In March, the Wake County School Board voted to reinstate advanced degree pay for teachers, social workers, guidance counselors and other specialists beginning July 2023. With 198 schools serving nearly 159,000 students, the school system is the largest in North Carolina and 15th largest in the nation. 

It’s been 10 years since the North Carolina General Assembly eliminated state-funded master’s pay for teachers who began their degree program after 2013. Reinstatement of statewide master’s pay funding remains in limbo as Gov. Cooper and North Carolina legislators have submitted competing budget proposals. 

With master’s pay relegated to a patchwork of benefits policies on a system-by-system basis, many teachers are asking themselves if pursuing a master’s is worth it personally and professionally. 

Asking the right questions

The first question to ask is, “Does a master’s degree in education align with my career goals?” That largely depends on an individual’s long-term goals. Are they happy doing what they’re doing now, or do they aspire to leadership positions within the school or system? 

The next question to ask is, “Will the degree be worth the investment in time and money?” Adult learners must weigh the benefit of the investment personally and professionally. If they have family and work responsibilities, they need to find a program that will allow them to balance all their competing priorities.

Another critical question is, “Which schools or degree programs should I consider?” Teachers should research the college’s accreditation and reputation. In addition to master’s degrees in specific disciplines like math, science and English, many colleges also offer advanced degrees in curriculum and design, educational leadership and educational technology. 

Potential benefits

There are numerous benefits to earning a master’s in education, from acquiring new skills and competencies to positioning oneself for career advancement opportunities. In our opinion, here are three major benefits:

  • Stepping to the forefront. The education field is ever-evolving. Earning a master’s degree in education will help graduates be part of a group of professionals with the credentials, licensures and industry-relevant skills and knowledge that current employers seek.
  • Developing leadership skills. Many master’s degree programs focus on developing leaders in the field of education. By improving their abilities through advanced training, graduates can become sought — after leaders within their schools or districts — stepping into roles that positively influence teaching and learning outcomes.
  • Sustaining a noble profession. In light of recent teacher shortages impacting districts nationwide, professionals with a master’s in education can play a valuable role in the retention-attrition teaching balance while attaining career longevity and success.

A strong characteristic of the teaching profession has always been collegiality. Teachers who are considering pursuing a master’s degree should feel comfortable asking questions of their colleagues with advanced degrees. They can also discuss their career goals with educational leaders at their school and district. 

Asking the right questions and getting relevant answers can help teachers decide if pursuing a master’s in education is right for them and their careers.

Ben Coulter

Ben Coulter, Ed.D., is southeast regional director for Western Governors University, an accredited nonprofit online university, and serves as chancellor of WGU North Carolina.

Stacey Ludwig Johnson

Stacey Ludwig Johnson, Ph.D., is the senior vice president of Western Governors University (WGU) and executive dean of the School of Education, the nation’s largest nonprofit, accredited school of education. In her current role, she leads faculty operations, field experience, and enrollment.