Graduate Education – Growing Again

Is the MA the new baccalaureate? Is a graduate degree critical to professional success? Many seem to think so, but the big picture is more complicated, and interesting, than one might imagine. Each year the Council of Graduate Studies and the folks who bring us the GRE do a survey of graduate schools, asking questions about enrollments, demographic and degrees. Their latest report, “Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 1999 to 2009” is based upon responses from 699 institutions (out of 806 queried). Admissions are up, enrollments are up – and the foundation of the increases are not just international, they are American citizens. The report provides extensive detail.

The survey looked at more than 1.8 million students in graduate programs. Approximately 60% were in public institutions, 30% in private institutions and 10% in private, for profit. A majority of graduate students were in three large sectors: business, education and health, and overall three-quarters of all graduate students were seeking a master’s or graduate certificate. Public institutions awarded the majority of masters and doctoral degrees; for profit institutions awarded the majority of certificates.

Overall, graduate education has grown at roughly 3.7% a year over the past decade. The rise, however, has often been due to increases in “temporary” students. From 2008 to 2009, however, growth has been higher (4.8%) and it has been mostly fueled by American citizens and permanent residents. The rate of growth has been faster, too, for women and minority graduate students. Acceptances across all graduate programs is roughly 45%, with doctoral programs being more selective.

Between 2008 and 2009, the fastest growing fields were health sciences, public administration, and social/behavioral sciences. Over the decade, the fastest growing fields were health sciences, business and engineering.

The numbers tell us that more and more people are seeking graduate degrees, or better stated, post-graduate education. Unsurprisingly, much of this work is related to employment and is taking place in fields that require professional certification or cannot be “mastered” in a four-year degree. While there are significant variations across areas of study, in some ways the growth of graduate education is fueled by the failure of the baccalaureate to provide professional success.

David Potash

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