The Department of Education has released its annual report on the condition of higher education in the United States. The study collected data from institutions of higher learning from 2008 and 2009, the most recent data available.
One of the first things that the report discusses is the increase in the number of undergraduate degrees awarded as compared to ten years prior. The total number of bachelor’s degrees has increased by over one-third. The report also discusses the concentration of these undergraduate degrees awarded in five major fields. Of the 1.6 million bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2008-9, over half were in the fields of business, social sciences, health and clinical sciences, education, and psychology.
The majority of associate’s degrees were also tightly bunched into a handful of categories, the report found. Over 50 percent of associate degrees awarded in 2008-9 were in the fields of liberal arts, general studies, and humanities, as well as health and clinical sciences. The number of degrees awarded increased over 40 percent from the previous decade’s report.
The D.O.E. also reported on master’s and doctoral degrees for the same time period. Master’s degrees were also highly concentrated in field of study, with over 50 percent in the fields of education and business. The number of Master’s degrees also showed a large increase, nearly 50 percent from the 1998-99 data.
Doctoral degrees were concentrated in the areas of health and clinical sciences, education, engineering, and biological sciences. These four fields accounted for more than half of all doctoral degrees conferred. The number of doctoral degrees awarded also demonstrated growth, with 54 percent more being awarded in 2008-9 than in 1998-99.
Overall, the report concludes that more degrees are being awarded, and demonstrates the correlation between degrees conferred and the areas of the job market with some of the highest growth rates.
What is perhaps one of the most interesting patterns illustrated by the report is the increase in degrees of all types being awarded to female students. While female students still lag behind their male counterparts in some of the traditionally male-dominated fields, such as engineering, math, and sciences (or STEM fields), they are steadily gaining ground. Female students are earning more of these types of degrees, and are earning more degrees overall than their male counterparts.