61 Masters Degree Statistics and Facts

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In the contemporary professional landscape, the allure of a master’s degree has never been more pronounced. As we delve into master’s degree statistics, it becomes evident that this advanced qualification has become a pivotal factor in career advancement and specialization. The importance of a master’s degree in today’s job market is underscored by its potential to open doors to higher-level positions, research opportunities, and specialized roles. Over time, the evolution of the master’s degree has been marked by its adaptability to the changing demands of academia and industry alike.

What a Masters Degree Entails

The master’s degree, historically known as the “magister” in Latin, has its roots in medieval European universities. Originally, it was a license to teach, signifying a person’s mastery over a particular subject. Over the centuries, as academia expanded and diversified, the master’s degree transformed into an advanced postgraduate academic degree, bridging the gap between undergraduate studies and doctoral research. Its evolution reflects the ever-growing thirst for specialized knowledge and expertise in various fields.

Types of Master’s Degrees

Master’s degrees span a vast array of disciplines and specializations. Some of the prominent ones include:

  • Master of Arts (MA): Often awarded in humanities, arts, and social sciences.
  • Master of Science (MS or MSc): Typically conferred in natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA): A professional degree focusing on business management and leadership.
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA): A creative degree in fields like visual arts, writing, and theater.

Each type caters to specific academic and professional aspirations, offering tailored curricula and research opportunities.

Benefits of Obtaining a Master’s Degree

Pursuing a master’s degree is a significant investment in one’s future. The benefits are manifold:

  • Enhanced Employment Opportunities: Many top-tier roles in various industries now require or prefer candidates with a master’s degree.
  • Higher Earning Potential: Master’s degree holders often command higher salaries compared to their bachelor’s degree counterparts.
  • Specialized Knowledge: Delve deeper into specific areas of interest, leading to expertise and mastery.
  • Gateway to Doctoral Studies: For those inclined towards research and academia, a master’s degree is often a prerequisite for PhD programs.
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Number and Rate of Master’s Degree Holders

  1. As of 2021, 24.1 million Americans held a master’s degree (13% of the workforce). (source)
  2. In the academic year of 2019/20, about 843,450 students were awarded a Master’s degree in the United States. (source)
  3. The number of Master’s degrees awarded is projected to increase by 16.5% in 2030. (source)
  4. Between 2010–11 and 2020–21, the total number of master’s degrees conferred increased by 19%. (source)
  5. Since 2000, the number of people age 25 and over whose highest degree was a master’s has doubled to 21 million. (source)

By Sex or Gender

  1. In 2020–21, females earned 62 percent (536,200 degrees) of all master’s degrees conferred. (source)
  2. Males earned 38 percent (330,700 degrees) of all master’s degrees conferred. (source)
  3. Of the five fields in which the most master’s degrees were conferred in 2020–21, females were conferred the majority of degrees in three of the top five fields:
    1. health professions and related programs (82 percent);
    2. public administration and social services (79 percent); and
    3. education (79 percent). (source)
  4. In the two remaining top fields of study, the majority of degrees were conferred to males in computer and information sciences and support services (66 percent) and business (51 percent). (source)

*Note: There are few statistics that include nonbinary genders in official sources. In most cases, the terms “sex” and “gender” are used interchangeably.

By Race or Ethnicity

  1. Asians are 5 times more likely than Latino/Hispanics to hold an advanced degree. (source)
  2. Asian attainment is at least 92% higher than other races. (source)
  3. The gap between White and Black is 44%, which is the 2nd widest after the Bachelor level. (source)
  4. In 2020–21, the 3 fields in which the most master’s degrees were conferred (business, education, and health professions) were also the top 3 conferred to most racial/ethnic groups. (source)
    1. Asian students were the exception, whose top 3 master’s degree fields were business; health professions and related programs; and computer and information sciences and support services. (source)
  5. The percentage of Master’s degrees conferred in a STEM field was
    1. 25 percent for Asian students;
    2. 13 percent for students of Two or more races;
    3. 10 percent for White students;
    4. 9 percent for Hispanic students;
    5. 8 percent each for Pacific Islander and Black students; and
    6. 7 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native students. (source)
  6. Of the 146,600 master’s degrees conferred in a STEM field in 2020–21, nearly a third were earned by White students.  (source)

Foreign-born or U.S. Nonresident Students

  1. For U.S. nonresident students, most master’s degrees were conferred in the following three fields: business, computer and information sciences and support services, and engineering. (source)
  2. Among U.S. nonresident students, 51 percent of master’s degrees conferred were in a STEM field. (source)
  3. Forty-five percent of master’s degrees in a STEM field were conferred to U.S. nonresident students, despite the fact that this group earned only 15 percent of total master’s degrees. (source)
  4. In 2021, a greater share of the foreign-born (15.4%) than native-born population (14.1%) held advanced degrees, such as master’s degrees, professional degrees, or doctoral degrees. (source)
Masters Degree Statistics. 17 percent were in a STEM field.

Fields of Study

  1. More than two-thirds of Master’s degrees (69 percent) conferred in 2020-2021 were concentrated in five fields of study. (source)
    1. The most popular field of study for master’s degrees was business. (source)
    2. The second most popular field of study for master’s degrees was education. (source)
    3. The third most popular field of study for master’s degrees was health professions and related programs. (source)
    4. The fourth most popular field of study for master’s degrees was social sciences and history. (source)
    5. The fifth most popular field of study for master’s degrees was public administration and social services. (source)
    6. The sixth most popular field of study for master’s degrees was engineering. (source)
  2.  2020–21, of the 866,900 master’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, 17 percent (146,600 degrees) were in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)5 field. (source)
  3. Specifically, of the master’s degrees conferred to each group, the percentage conferred in a STEM field was
    1.  25 percent for Asian students;
    2. 13 percent for students of Two or more races;
    3. 10 percent for White students;
    4. 9 percent for Hispanic students;
    5. 8 percent each for Pacific Islander and Black students; and
    6. 7 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native students.
    7. Among U.S. nonresident students, 51 percent of master’s degrees conferred were in a STEM field. (source)

Earnings and Employment

  1. The 9% of Americans who earn a master’s degree or higher increase their employability by a little less than 3%. (source)
  2. Median lifetime earnings for master’s degree holders is $3.2 million. (source)
  3. People with a master’s degree make 16% more in median weekly earnings than those with a bachelor’s degree. (source)
  4. People with a master’s degree make 65% more in median weekly earnings than those with an associate’s degree. (source)
  5. Occupations that typically require a master’s degree are projected to grow at a rate of 16.7 % through 2026. (source)
  6. The majority of individuals with master’s degrees or higher work in professional and related occupations. (source)
  7. Over 55% of master’s degree holders work in occupations classified as professional or related. (source)
  8. About 30% of master’s degree holders work in management, business, or related occupations (the second largest group). (source)
  9. 73% of master’s degree holders are employed as civilians. (source)
  10. 25% were not employed in the civilian labor force. (source)
  11. 1% were unemployed. (source)
  12. Farming, forestry, and fishing occupations employed the fewest number of people with a master’s degree or higher. (source)

Comparison with Doctoral Degrees

While master’s degrees offer advanced knowledge, doctoral degrees, primarily PhDs, represent the pinnacle of academic achievement. They involve extensive research, culminating in a thesis or dissertation. In terms of growth, doctoral degrees have seen a steady increase, especially in research-intensive fields. 

However, master’s degrees offer a shorter duration and often more practical applications, making them more appealing to those looking to enhance their professional credentials without committing to the rigors of a PhD.

Online vs. Traditional Master's Degrees

Online vs. Traditional Master’s Degrees

The digital revolution has reshaped the educational landscape. Online master’s programs have emerged as viable alternatives to traditional classroom-based courses, offering unparalleled flexibility and accessibility for students.

Online Master’s Degree Statistics:
  1. In 2016, 31% of students enrolled in master’s programs earned their degree online. (source)
  2. The rate of enrollment in online master’s courses or programs has increased substantially since 2000 and is more common than among bachelor’s degree programs. (source)
  3. 21% of students enrolled in master’s degree tracks in 2016 reported taking some (but not all) classes online. (source)
  4. In contrast, 12% of bachelor’s degree students were enrolled in fully online programs, and 31% reported taking some online courses. (source)
Factors to Consider

When evaluating online vs. traditional master’s programs, consider:

  • Flexibility: Online offers the advantage of studying at one’s own pace.
  • Interaction: Traditional programs provide more opportunities for networking and collaboration.
  • Accreditation: Ensure the chosen program, be it online or offline, is recognized and accredited by relevant educational bodies
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Conclusion 

Master’s degree statistics paint a picture of an evolving educational landscape, where advanced qualifications are becoming increasingly crucial. Whether you’re considering a traditional classroom experience or the flexibility of online learning, the decision to pursue a master’s degree is a testament to one’s commitment to lifelong learning and professional growth. As the world becomes more specialized, the value of a master’s degree, with its promise of expertise and advanced skills, remains unassailable.

Sources

  1. https://educationdata.org/number-of-college-graduates 
  2. https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2019/education-projections/pdf/education-projections.pdf 
  3. https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2023/data-on-display/education-pays.htm 
  4. https://www.statista.com/statistics/238236/masters-degree-recipients-in-the-us/
  5. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/ctb/graduate-degree-fields
  6. https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/collegepayoff2021/
  7. https://www.census.gov/dThe College Payoff: More Education Doesn’t Always Mean More Earnings – CEW Georgetownata/tables/2018/demo/education-attainment/cps-detailed-tables.html 
  8. https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2022/comm/a-higher-degree.html 
  9. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2022/educational-attainment.html 
  10. https://www.coursera.org/articles/online-masters-degrees
  11. https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2018/12/12/masters-degrees-more-popular-increasingly-online

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