|Your manager is right and wrong, but you are only right to question him. Your manager sounds like a true believer who takes a small piece of information and turns it into a total belief system that spurs him to an immediate overreaction. |
There are studies showing that some people will select title over money. However, there is more to it. For example, if the people believe their pay is satisfactory, equitable, or even above average, they may sense that a title is more rewarding than a pay increase. The wording of the title itself also plays a role.
If people believe their pay is inequitable or less than the competitive rate, if they truly believe their documented performance has merited an increase, or if they have solid reasons to expect an increase, an offer of a title is typically going to generate dissatisfaction. The company will be viewed as cheap and manipulative, and employees will often feel insulted.
It sounds like your manager needs to take the entire class on motivation rather than just a seminar. If the company cannot afford to give raises, that is a separate matter that should be communicated. And if the company can afford raises, it cannot afford whimsical decisions like this.