The Salary, Cost of Living, and Student Debt Equation

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Most college graduates will leave school with a degree and significant student debt. According to the US Federal Reserve, over 44 million Americans have student loan debt. The average debt for the class of 2016 is $37,172, up six percent from last year.To put this burden in perspective, the average monthly student loan payment for millennials is $351 a month and a full 11 percent of student loans payments are late by at least 90 days.2

It's clear that a consideration in choosing a college is the amount of debt you'll take on. That's especially true if you're considering becoming a teacher, where salaries have modestly risen over the past couple of years but are still well below what they were on average in 2009-2010.3

In the search for your perfect teaching job, there are a lot of compensation-related factors to consider. While your starting salary is important to know, the cost of living in that district provides context to your future standard of living. After all, $35,000 goes significantly farther in Moorhead, Minnesota, than in San Francisco, California, especially if you have student loans. Should you be one of the lucky graduates without debt (we're jealous), this information is still pertinent!

Based on these factors, we can add some more questions to consider while researching your first job (the Teacher Contract Database might help provide answers4):

1. Are teacher salaries and bonuses indexed to the cost of living and subject to increase?

2. What percentage of teachers in this district resigned because of the current salary (based on exit interviews)?

Why should you get to know this statistic? Even though you may be passionate about teaching, your salary and job satisfaction still go hand-in-hand. A 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher revealed that only 35 percent of all teachers surveyed say their salary is fair to the work they do (just 28 percent of teachers with low job satisfaction and 25 percent of teachers likely to leave in the next five years thought so).5

3. Does your district offer tuition reimbursement for pursuing additional credits in a high needs area, like special education?

4. Does your district give bonuses for educators with specific college majors?

5. Does your district reimburse teachers for buying classroom supplies?

Unfortunately, almost all teachers will pay for some of their classroom supplies out of pocket. According to the Education Market Association, most teachers will spend nearly $500 on supplies in a given year, and one in ten will spend $1,000 or more. You should know if your district will provide the necessary financial support for classroom supplies. 

6. What student loan forgiveness programs exist within the state?

States and the federal government offer student loan forgiveness programs for working in "high needs" schools for a number of years. 

When it comes to choosing the university and school district, the more available information the better. Be clear about what you need, and go get it!

-- Curtis Valentine, Rob Rickenbrode, Lisa Swanson


2 Ibid.


4 The Teacher Contact Database includes academic calendars, salary schedules, evaluation handbooks, student demographic data, labor context, and quick facts about the district's teacher policies. (page 18)