ATD Research Explains: The Upside of a Master’s in Talent Development

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

We’ve all seen something and thought, “Wow, that looks like more effort than it’s worth.” Whether it’s six-pack abs or the all-time high score on Candy Crush Saga, we’ve all thought it before. Usually, we’re right. Sometimes, though, it’s harder to determine if something is worth the time and hard work. 

When it comes to choosing whether to continue your education beyond a four-year degree, it becomes especially difficult to assess whether reward outweighs effort. If you’re a talent development professional, a master’s degree can have a huge impact on your career—it may help increase your pay, support you in the field of instructional design, and help you network with peers.

A master’s degree also represents a substantial investment of time and money, and not everyone can or should pursue a one. When making your decision, it’s important to consider all pertinent information. We’ve compiled a few facts about master’s degrees and talent development to help.

This graph from ATD’s 2015 compensation and benefits report, which surveyed more than 2,000 talent development professionals in the United States, shows just how frequently talent development professionals hold master’s degrees. Nearly half the industry, at 49 percent, holds a master’s degree or above, and another 10 percent have completed at least some postgraduate education. Many of the latter group will likely go on to finish their degrees and join the ranks of those already holding master’s and doctorates.

Of course, a lower level of educational attainment won’t preclude you from having a successful career in talent development. More than 40 percent of all talent development professionals haven’t completed any postgraduate education, including many in leadership positions. 

That said, holding a master’s can still increase your pay under the right circumstances. According to ATD’s 2015 salary report, having a master’s does increase your chances of making $70,000 or more a year. Considering that nearly 40 percent of talent development professionals earn less than that, investing in a master’s can pay off, particularly in the field of instructional design.


More than 40 percent of instructional designers hold a degree in instructional design or a related field, according to Instructional Design Now: A New Age of Learning and Beyond, a 2015 research report from ATD and the Institute for Corporate Productivity. As shown in the graph above, more than 80 percent of people who hold a formal degree in the field believe it plays an important or very important role in supporting their careers. Also, instructional designers as a whole represent a highly educated group. Overall, 87 percent of instructional designers hold either master’s degrees or doctorates in some field.

Wondering if a master’s degree in instructional design or another area of talent development is right for you? ATD L&D Degree Directory currently lists 279 master’s programs in talent development and related disciplines, and even more bachelor’s and doctorate programs.

Like what you see here? Follow ATD Research on Twitter (@atdresearch) for the latest statistics, news, and trends in the talent development industry.


About the Author
Alex Moore is a former writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development. Prior to that role, he served as the research coordinator for ATD, writing content for the research department, managing its Twitter account, and assisting with data collection and analysis. Alex graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in English.
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