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Arkansas State University

What Is an MAT Degree Versus an M.Ed. Degree?

Increasingly, educators earn graduate degrees to advance their careers and income potential, improve their teaching practices and positively impact their students’ learning outcomes and experiences. Earning a master’s degree can be a smart investment for today’s teachers. But if you are thinking about going back to school and advancing your education, you have a few degree options to choose from.

Two of the main master’s degree options for teachers are the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree and the Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree. Teachers can benefit from earning either of these degrees. But to make an educated choice when considering enrolling in an MAT or an M.Ed. program, you should know the differences between the two degrees and understand which might best support your career aspirations.

You also have distinct educational models and degree specializations to choose from. Many people choose to enroll in traditional, campus-based master’s degree programs. But if you are a working professional, the flexibility of online programs like the five MAT degree options from Arkansas State University (A-State) could be a good match for your busy schedule.

Why Should Teachers Consider Earning a Master’s Degree in Education?

Master’s degrees can benefit aspiring or working teachers in many ways, evidenced by the increasing popularity of education-related graduate degrees. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that the field of education accounted for 18% of master’s degrees conferred in 2021, making it the second most popular field for master’s-level study.

Yet the cost of master’s degree programs can be substantial, as can the amount of time degree candidates spend on their studies. So, before deciding between an MAT program or an M.Ed. program, it’s essential to consider the benefits of earning a master’s degree and whether it will be worth your investment of time and money.

Get Competitive in the Education Job Market

According to NCES data, the percentage of public school teachers with graduate degrees increased between 2011-12 and 2020-21, while the percentage of teachers with only a bachelor’s degree decreased. Roughly 61% of public school teachers had a graduate degree in the 2020-21 school year. These include master’s degrees like the MAT and the M.Ed. as well as Education Specialist (Ed.S.) and doctorate-level education degrees.

The most common level of educational attainment for the modern teacher is the master’s degree. In fact, NCES data shows that most teachers at public and charter schools held master’s degrees in 2020-21. Plus, NCES reports that the master’s degree was the most common “highest degree earned” by teachers across community types (city, suburban, town or rural) and school levels (elementary/middle, secondary/high or combined/other).

This means that if you are looking for a new teaching job or a promotion, there is a good chance — statistically speaking — that many of your competitors in the job market already have their master’s degrees. If you want to compete for these positions, earning a master’s degree is a virtual necessity.

Boost Your Teacher Income

Earning a master’s degree can also boost your income potential as a teacher. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), kindergarten and elementary teachers made a median annual salary of $61,620 in 2022. Similarly, the median 2022 salary was $61,810 for middle school teachers and $62,360 for high school teachers.

However, these median salaries from BLS do not differentiate according to the teacher’s level of education. According to NCES figures, the average 2020-21 base salary for full-time public school teachers with only a bachelor’s degree was $52,500. In comparison, teachers with master’s degrees made an average base salary of $67,000 in 2020-21, representing an annual wage premium of $14,500.

Notably, this 2020-2021 wage premium for teachers with their master’s was substantially higher than the wage premium for earning higher-level graduate degrees (compared to a master’s). For instance, teachers with their Ed.S. made an average base salary of $70,500 in 2020-21 — only $3,500 more than teachers with a master’s.

Clearly, for teachers who only have a bachelor’s and want to increase their income potential, earning a master’s degree can pay off in direct and substantial ways. In addition, a master’s degree can open doors to promotions, higher-level positions and other career opportunities.

Make a Difference for Students

While the above benefits are significant, many teachers aren’t driven primarily by money or climbing the job structure hierarchy. If your main priority is improving student learning and development, the most crucial benefit of earning a master’s degree may be how the advanced knowledge and teaching skills you develop will benefit the students and community you serve.

This key benefit of advancing your education is an important focus of many graduate programs in education. In particular, the overarching purpose of enhancing teaching practices to improve student learning and help students achieve their academic, career and life goals is central to MAT degree programs like those offered online by A-State.

What Is a Master of Arts in Teaching?

An MAT is a practical, pragmatic degree. Fundamentally, MAT programs are built to help people become great teachers. MAT programs may be intended for working teachers looking to advance their general educational practices, specialize in working with a certain population or age group or pursue teaching a specific discipline like technology or art education. MAT programs may also be designed for people without an education background who are interested in pivoting to a career in teaching.

For instance, A-State offers five online MAT programs:

With the exception of the MAT – Special Education K-12 program, A-State’s MAT programs are specifically geared toward people who plan to teach public school in Arkansas. A-State’s programs offer the general and discipline-specific skills and knowledge needed to transition between teaching positions, improve teaching practice, formalize teaching experience and enter the field.

Master of Arts in Teaching vs. Master of Education: How Do They Compare?

What is the difference between an MAT and M.Ed.? They are both well-respected master’s degrees and both deepen educational knowledge and skills, preparing aspiring and working educators to achieve their career goals and maximize their effectiveness on the job.

Yet, MAT and M.Ed. degree programs differ in various ways in terms of content, curricula and professional application. Perhaps the simplest way to differentiate the two types of master’s programs is to compare why people choose the degrees.

What Can I Do With a Master of Arts in Teaching?

MAT degrees like A-State’s are often designed for people who want to be teachers or for teachers who aim to improve their teaching skills or teach a specific discipline, age group or population. In addition, MAT degrees may help educators meet state-specific licensure requirements for teaching in certain roles or disciplines.

Discipline-oriented MAT programs also prepare aspiring teachers for the Praxis tests and help students put their MAT education to work quickly. For example, by completing the first six credit hours of coursework and passing the appropriate Praxis exams, students in A-State’s online MAT – Special Education K-12 program can earn a provisional teaching license in Arkansas and start teaching after their first semester. In as few as 14 weeks, students can begin working and applying what they learn while completing their master’s degree.

What Can I Do With a Master of Education?

M.Ed. programs are often structured for teachers and other education professionals who want to transition to specialized educational roles outside the classroom. M.Ed. concentrations generally focus on knowledge and skills needed for specific job roles in areas like school leadership and administration, curriculum and instruction coordination and technology integration. While a bachelor’s degree will suffice to enter the teaching profession in most states, a master’s degree is often one of the state-specific licensure requirements for more specialized education and leadership roles.

As to admissions requirements, some schools require that M.Ed. applicants have a bachelor’s degree in education. In general, M.Ed. students may be more likely to come from education-oriented backgrounds than MAT students, be it undergraduate study or work experience. Yet, many MAT students come from education-oriented backgrounds as well. Thus, the differences between these master’s programs often center around what students want to do with their degree and what studies, preparation and qualifications they need to meet their goals.

What Will I Study in an Online MAT Program?

MAT programs like A-State’s focus squarely on the skills, general knowledge and subject-specific knowledge teachers need to maximize their effectiveness in working with diverse student populations in the modern classroom.

For instance, A-State’s elementary education MAT program coursework equips teachers with an advanced understanding of educational theories; classroom management; evidence-based teaching methodologies and strategies; evolving instructional and assessment techniques; reading and literacy development; educational technology applications and more. A-State’s elementary education MAT candidates also delve into childhood cognitive, social-emotional and physical development in the socio-cultural context, giving teachers insight into their students’ backgrounds, cultures, developmental stages and learning needs.

MAT programs focused on different age groups or populations include coursework examining the unique needs of the students that teachers will work with. MAT programs that concentrate on specific subjects will logically have coursework devoted to the in-depth study of the concentration discipline, while generalized courses also prepare candidates to work with various age groups and populations.

Whether coursework focuses on differentiated teaching methods, technology, literacy, childhood development or effective assessment, the point of MAT studies is constant: to give teachers tools and knowledge that will help them create inclusive learning environments and meet the needs of today’s students.

How Do M.Ed. Studies Differ From a MAT Program?

Like courses in varied MAT programs, coursework in M.Ed. programs will vary widely depending on the program concentration. For instance, coursework in an educational leadership and administration M.Ed. program might focus on school leadership, the principalship, education law and human resources. An M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction will include courses focused on curriculum development, design and implementation, instructional methodology and design, educational research and similar subjects.

Again, M.Ed. degree concentrations and coursework tend to complement the educational roles that degree candidates wish to pursue — often outside the classroom. While some teachers feel they can achieve their career aspirations and have the most positive impact inside the classroom, others feel drawn to administrative and instructional design roles — or simply need a change of environment after years of teaching.

Why Earn My Master’s in Teaching Degree Online?

There are several benefits associated with remote learning. While not overly tech-heavy, online education does enable students to develop the transferable technology and digital literacy skills professionals in any field need to succeed in the modern era. Plus, the experiential aspect of online education — being able to apply what you learn to work and life in real-time — can help students retain what they learn. But perhaps the most noted benefit of the online education model is its inherent flexibility and convenience.

For instance, working full-time while attending a campus-based program can be challenging or downright impossible. With online MAT programs like A-State’s, you can keep working your normal schedule while you earn your degree, completing your studies anywhere when you have an internet connection and some dedicated time. In addition to the benefit of scheduling flexibility and convenience, you can keep earning a full-time income while completing your degree, drastically lessening the financial hit or “opportunity cost” of going back to school.

Learning at Your Own Speed

Moreover, online programs allow you to complete your degree at the pace you choose. You can take a lighter courseload during a busy period at work or utilize the accelerated design of A-State’s MAT programs, which allow you to complete your degree in less than a year and a half (if you choose).

These and other benefits of the online education model are not specific to MAT or M.Ed. programs. Schools may offer either degree in an online format, and both degrees can help you take your career to new levels or explore new education careers. Choosing between earning an MAT or an M.Ed. depends largely on your motivations and goals — the impact you want to have on the student community you care about.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s Master of Arts in Teaching online programs.

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