Beyond a Bachelor’s Degree: Big Gains for Graduate School Attainment

Written by: Jessica Davis

The number of people with some graduate education now exceeds the number who have just a bachelor’s degree –36 million to 30 million, one of the interesting findings in the newly released 2013 educational attainment table package.

The Great Recession, which started in December 2007, saw the economy and job growth decline. Adults without job prospects will sometimes stay in school to further their education but also with the anticipation that when they finish, employment opportunities will be greater.

A recent Census Bureau release showed a  4.5 million student increase in college enrollment since 2001.  As a consequence  of the increase in enrollment,  educational attainment has also increased in recent years. In 2013, 65.6 million adults age 25 and over had a bachelor’s degree or higher (31.7 percent), up from 50 million in 2003 (27.2 percent).

Population 25 and over who have a bachelor's degree or higher

An interesting aspect of the increase in education has been the rising tendency of people with a bachelor’s degree to return to school and get more education. The number of adults who have completed some graduate school increased 24 percent from 2008 to 2013, from 29 million to 36 million. That is to say, 7 million more people have experienced at least some graduate school education than was the case five years ago. As you can see, going to graduate school for additional education beyond a college degree has become the majority experience for those with a bachelor’s degree.

It is too early to tell how many people will end up with graduate degrees out of the total who have continued their education beyond college. However, a large portion have already completed a graduate degree. The number of adults completing a master’s degree grew by 18 percent from 2008 to 2013, and the number completing a professional or doctoral degree grew by 20 percent. By comparison, the number with a bachelor’s degree who haven’t pursued any further education has shown little growth—only a 2 percent increase over the past five years.

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2 Responses to Beyond a Bachelor’s Degree: Big Gains for Graduate School Attainment

  1. Dr. Gene Nelson says:

    These data document trends that I believe portend a “bubble” which will burst. A problem is that there aren’t enough job openings at the doctoral level for all of the 3,484,000 people that hold doctorates as of 2013. People are being trained for nonexistent career openings. Search by title for these articles to obtain more background: “No Ph.D.s Need Apply” in Newsweek by Sharon Begley and “Black Hole Opens in Scientist Job Rolls” by G. Pascal Zachary in The Wall Street Journal. One symptom is the growing Ph.D. ranks employed as poorly-paid adjunct professors, such as myself. Search by title for the May 6, 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education article, “The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps” by Stacey Patton, Ph.D. (P.S. I also served as a Field Operations Supervisor for the 2010 Decennial Census for most of Arlington County, Virginia.)

  2. Dr. Carlos Siordia says:

    I agree, the job market is saturated with individuals who have advanced degrees. The over supply of PhDs has diminished the financial return on investment many of us expected upon entering graduate school. Although having a high formal education may retain its social value, the financial rewards that customarily accompanied are continuing to deplete as universities move towards the use of more technology (e.g., online classes & pre-recorded lectures). Moving our nation forward requires that we create a product the world wants. In the pass, education was a central factor of this process. I hope it remains the case for centuries to come…

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