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How Much Will You Earn With an Artificial Intelligence Degree?

A single one-dollar bill stands upward against a white brick wall.

Artificial intelligence is trending for good reason. After years of stagnancy – what has been called the "AI winter" – advancements in computer science and data science have sparked new enthusiasm for the practical applications of AI. Since then, this technology has advanced rapidly. Increased data accessibility and computer power fueled the development of neural networks and deep learning algorithms. 

Right now, industries from HR to healthcare to finance are looking for ways to implement artificial intelligence to improve efficiency, reduce costs, increase market potential and automate processes. McKinsey & Company estimates that by 2030, roughly 70 percent of companies will adopt at least one piece of AI-driven technology. Jobs of the future will involve a degree of human-computer interaction even greater than we see now, and automation powered by artificial intelligence may eliminate some jobs. Professionals who upskill in AI subfields like machine learning may enjoy more job stability and command a better than average annual salary in the future of work.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employers will create more than 667,000 new computer and information technology jobs over the next decade. To qualify to step into the highest-paying roles in a job market fueled by AI, you will likely need one or more advanced credentials. Earning a computer science master's degree such as the Online Master of Science in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization (MSCS-AI) from SMU's Lyle School of Engineering now can give you an edge in future job hunts and salary negotiations. 

Do Professionals With Artificial Intelligence Master's Degrees Earn More?

The ROI of a master's degree largely depends on what you do with it, but artificial intelligence skills are in-demand in and out of technology. Hybrid jobs toe the line between tech and non-tech roles, and artificial intelligence jobs increasingly fall into this category. While artificial intelligence skills are useful in technical fields such as data science, network engineering, software engineering, robotics and computer engineering, they are also increasingly in demand in retail, marketing, finance, transportation and entertainment.  

In general, master's degrees correlate with higher salaries. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Winter 2021 salary survey, the projected starting salary for someone graduating with a bachelor's in computer science in 2021 was $72,173. For computer science master's graduates, that average was $85,373. Remember, these are just entry-level salaries. PayScale reports that the average computer science salary for employees with bachelor's degrees is $100,000. With a master's degree, that number jumps to $111,000

In artificial intelligence, master's degrees correlate not only with higher salaries but also with the ability to advance. According to data gathered by Datamation, 26 percent of artificial intelligence job listings require a master's degree, and some employers prefer to fill AI positions with candidates who have PhDs in addition to master's degrees.

Skills and Salary: How You'll Develop in SMU's MSCS-AI Program

Computer science and tech skills have long correlated with higher-than-average salaries. Salary.com reports that the average annual salaries for jobs that require AI skills average about $139,000. One study found that demonstrable AI skills carry a trackable wage premium of 11 percent – not just in technology roles but across jobs. Titles do influence salaries in technology, but skill building and skill maintenance likely play a more significant role in salary growth than title changes. According to O'Reilly's 2021 Data/AI Salary Survey, professionals who spent more than 100 hours training and developing new artificial intelligence skills earned an $11,000 salary increase. 

SMU's flexible MSCS-AI helps professionals in and out of technology reskill to compete in changing job markets, advance in their careers and earn more money. All artificial intelligence master's coursework in the program is available 100 percent online. Core courses teach computer science skills related to computer architecture, algorithm engineering, file organization, database management, operating systems and software engineering. Students also take a core course covering the fundamentals of artificial intelligence that teaches how to solve real-world problems using predicate logic, nonmonotonic reasoning and fuzzy sets. Another core course covers machine learning in Python and how AI professionals use this in-demand programming language to train artificial neural networks and develop deep learning methods. 

From there, students dive into their selection of electives, which may cover data mining, logic programming, natural language processing, Java programming and more. Specialization allows students to build a custom curriculum around interests such as artificial intelligence that aligns with their professional goals.

What are the Highest-Paying Jobs You Can Get With an MSCS-AI?

Machine Learning Engineer (average salary range: $113,000 - $151,000

Machine learning engineers are programmers who can build software that automates predictive models. The programs leverage large, complex data sets to develop algorithms that can learn and perform predictive analysis. ML engineers regularly refine the software they develop, executing tests that facilitate the "learning" process.

AI Research Scientist (average salary range $93,000 - $116,000

Artificial intelligence research scientists apply cutting-edge technology in machine learning and other AI subfields to solve complex problems. These artificial intelligence experts push the boundaries of deep learning models and intelligent systems, shaping the future applications of AI.

AI Specialist (average salary range: ​​$110,000 - $125,000

AI specialists use machine learning, deep learning and natural language processing alongside tools such as TensorFlow to teach computers to perform tasks previously assigned to humans. AI specialist jobs vary across workplaces. Someone in this role might program AI-powered chatbots for retail enterprises or configure deep learning models that streamline operations in manufacturing. Essentially, it is the job of AI specialists to integrate AI into a business in the most efficient, effective way possible. 

Algorithm engineer (average salary range: $121,000 - $122,000

Algorithm engineers design and test computer models that extract useful information from data. This job is increasingly important as businesses power more and more decision-making with Big Data. For example, an algorithm engineer on Apple's Health Technologies team is responsible for figuring out how to extract physiological data from smartphones and Apple watches to inform future design and best practices. 

AI engineers focused on algorithm engineering must have the soft skills to communicate insights – i.e., the ability to turn hard numbers into real-world stories that inform non-IT professionals about the best way forward. Faculty in SMU's MSCS-AI program make business intelligence a priority, teaching students practical, real-world skills that help them stand out to employers.

Business Intelligence Developer (average salary range $81,000 - $96,000)

Business intelligence developers use AI to automate the application of data in decision-making and business strategy. Business intelligence developers design, maintain and oversee BI dashboards that use interactive data visualization to make data easier to understand and analyze. Professionals in this position usually works with the data science team and interfaces with various departments outside of data analytics, including IT, sales, web development and upper management.

Chief Data Scientist (average salary range: $179,000 - $215,000)

Data scientists help their organizations glean valuable insights from large data sets. Senior data scientists lead teams and report directly to CEOs, acting as a bridge between business management and data analysis. Chief Data Scientist is a relatively new executive role but also one more organizations are creating as the importance of data grows. Ira Cohen, a co-founder and chief data scientist at Anodot, told Silicon Republic that "truly great Chief Data Scientists know how to walk a fine line between driving creative innovation and pragmatic solutions."

Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer (average salary range: $80,000 - $140,000)

Chief AI Officer (CAIO) is an even newer and still-rare title. At most organizations, the CTO oversees technology implementation, including the implementation of artificial intelligence technologies. Some companies see a need for technology leadership wholly focused on AI. The CAIO may oversee artificial intelligence strategy, AI ethics, team development and AI-focused digital transformation.  

What's the ROI of an Artificial Intelligence Master's?

Lyle School of Engineering tuition is competitive. Per-credit-hour tuition is $1,350, and students complete 30 credit hours on a flexible timeline to meet the MSCS-AI graduation requirements. For an investment of $43,500, you can move into roles with a starting median salary of $85,000 and advance quickly into ​​senior-level and technical roles that pay well over $100,000. Over the course of your career, the ROI of an artificial intelligence master's can add up to an impressive sum. 

How Choosing an Online MSCS-AI Program Changes the Equation

Most online artificial intelligence master's programs cost about the same as on-campus programs for per-credit tuition. However, that does not mean that the total cost of part-time online degree programs and traditional full-time, on-campus programs is the same – or that they have the same ROI. 

You may spend less on your education than your peers on campus because you will not pay commuting costs, relocation costs or for on-campus incidentals on top of tuition. 

More importantly, you will not have to leave the workforce to earn a master's degree. Many graduate students sacrifice two years of income plus potential employment opportunities hoping their investment will pay off. In an online master's degree program, you can study artificial intelligence in your off hours and graduate without a gap in your resume. You can move to an area where AI jobs are numerous while still in school and network while you study or petition your current employer for tuition reimbursement. 

Should I Pursue a Career in Artificial Intelligence?

If you are passionate about AI's present-day and future applications across industries, now is a great time to invest in an artificial intelligence degree. This is a job seeker's market, in and out of the technology sector. Research firms that track data for specific AI skills find that demand is more than double supply for most of them. Organizations in fields as diverse as healthcare, retail, finance and manufacturing recognize the benefits of AI but cannot find the qualified specialists they need to implement it. That talent gap is pushing artificial intelligence degree salaries higher each year. 

However, it is a good idea to think beyond the abundant opportunities and generous salaries in this field when deciding whether to pursue an AI master's degree. You will be happiest in an artificial intelligence career if you are excited by what is happening in the field. The subfields of AI are numerous and branching, and increasingly, researchers and technologists are finding ways to use artificial intelligence to make the world a better place. Computer vision powered by machine learning is already making manufacturing safer. In the future, AI may help extend the human lifespan.

What sets SMU's MSCS-AI program apart beyond the in-depth curriculum is its emphasis on the ethical application of AI technology. Faculty encourage students to consider how they can use artificial intelligence and machine learning to solve not only business challenges but also the world's most pressing challenges. There is no understating the value of an artificial intelligence master's curriculum that lets you pursue your passions and emphasizes innovation alongside social good. 

Read more about the remote student experience, get your questions answered or apply online today.