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Benefits of Master’s Degrees: Are Master’s the New Bachelor’s?

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Considering the number of recent college grads taking positions they’re overqualified for and the mass of unemployed college graduates out there, some experts are staring to believe that master’s degrees have become the new bachelor’s degree.

More and more job openings are now advertised as “bachelor’s required, master’s preferred” and people have noticed the trend: master’s degrees are now the fastest-growing degree.

Richard K. Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, told The New York Times that today’s colleges are turning out more graduates than the market can bear, making master’s degrees essential for job seekers to stand out from the crowd.

More People Getting their Master’s Degree than Ever Before

The New York Times also reports that roughly 657,000 master’s degrees were awarded in 2009—more than double the number awarded during the 1980s. That rate has increased substantially over the past couple of years as well, claims Debra W. Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools.

“Several years ago it became very clear to us that master’s education was moving very rapidly to become the entry degree in many professions,” Dr. Stewart explained. Today’s master’s degrees are typically much more specialized than bachelor’s degrees.

Higher Degree, Higher Salary: Master’s Degree Recipients Earn More

U.S. News and World Report Education reports that those with bachelor’s degrees can earn about $2.27 million over their lifetime while those with master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees can earn $2.67 million, $3.24 million, and $3.65 million, respectively. The figures were taken from The College Payoff, a new report issued by the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce on August 5, 2011.

Master’s degrees may also help people earn more simply because they are a helpful ticket to employment. Laura Georgianna, who works in employee development at Welch Allyn, admitted to The Times that given two otherwise equal résumés, the one belonging to a master’s degree recipient wins. Why? Because “It says that this person is committed and dedicated to the work and has committed to the deep dive,” she explained.

The Future of Master’s Degrees and Graduate Education

According to the 2010 report The Path Forward: The Future of Graduate Education in the United States, undergraduate education is important to the creation of a stable economy because bachelor’s degrees provide students with knowledge and work skills while prepping students for a wide range of employment options, but it is graduate education that provides students with advanced knowledge and skills; skills that will secure the country’s “future intellectual leadership in the knowledge economy.”

The report even warns that the U.S. should adopt a national strategy to increase degree completion or risk losing its position as the world leader in research and innovation. The report was released on April 2010 in Washington, DC by the Commission on the Future of Graduate Education, a joint effort of the Council of Graduate Schools and Educational Testing Service.

Earnings are Dependent on Race, Gender, and Degree

Georgetown’s new College Payoff report also points out that race and gender are unfortunately still a factor when it comes to earning potential. “On average, to earn as much as men with a bachelor’s degree, women must obtain a doctoral degree,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, feels that these are the most disappointing findings of the new study. The Georgetown researchers estimate that women with professional degrees will earn approximately $3 million over their lives— more than $1 million less than a man with an equivalent degree.

The study also found that African Americans and Latinos with master’s degrees also have lower lifetime earnings than whites with bachelor’s degrees, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

10 Best Master’s Degrees for Jobs

According to a Forbes report, the best master’s degrees for jobs are as follows:

1. Physician Assistant Studies, with mid-career median pay of $98,000

2. Computer Science, with mid-career median pay of $111,000

3. Civil Engineering, with mid-career median pay of $98,700

4. Mathematics, with mid-career median pay of $96,900

5. Physics, with mid-career median pay of $110,000

6. Information Technology, with mid-career median pay of $97,000

7. Human Resources Management, with mid-career median pay of $81,900

8. Economics, with mid-career median pay of $108,000

9. Geology, with mid-career median pay of $90,100

10. Business (MBA), with mid-career median pay of $109,000

Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce director Carnevale agrees with the MBA being a top master’s degree. “In the case of business administration, get an MBA. Don’t listen to what anyone else says,” he told Bloomberg Business. The number of people with MBAs may be high, but “it’s better to be in that pool than in the pool of bachelor’s degree holders.”


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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