College Degree Round Up
Revised with the newest data July 20, 2017
American colleges and universities continue to turn out graduates, and in ever increasing numbers. In the year ending June 2015, the last year of complete data, the National Center for Education Statistics at the United States Department of Education reported 1,013,971 graduates receiving associates degrees, 1,894,934 receiving Baccalaureate degrees, 758,708 receiving master's degrees, 87,302 receiving doctoral degrees, and 91,245 receiving professional degrees. Professional degrees include medical, pharmacy, veterinary, and law. This year the total of first time professional degrees was down slightly, primarily due to a drop in law degrees.
In 1900 the decennial census counted that year's college graduates; 27,410 received Baccalaureate Degrees from degree granting colleges. After reaching 186,500 in 1940, BA degrees climbed to 432,048 in 1950 when WWII veterans began taking advantage of the GI Bill of Rights and entered college in large numbers. Earned degrees declined some later in the 1950's; but surpassed all earlier numbers by 1964. Earned baccalaureate degrees jumped to 792,316 in June of 1970; 900 thousand in 1973; 1 million in 1989. In June 2000, 1,237,875 earned Baccalaureate degrees from accredited degree granting colleges and universities. The total of 2015 degrees, associate, masters, doctorate, and first-time professional in addition to the 1,894,934 BA degrees mentioned above came to 3,846,130 for the year ending June 2015.
The numbers receiving United State College degrees continue to grow at a 2.60 percent annual average rate over the last 25 years; more than double the growth rate for the adult population and more than double the growth rate of the civilian labor force. The rate applies to the total of degrees granted from U.S. colleges and universities: associate, baccalaureate, masters, doctorates and first professional degrees. In this way America is getting better educated with a better educated workforce.
Growth rates vary widely by sex and by level of degree. Women have higher growth rates in all degree levels going back to 1990. Women were 41 percent of BA degrees in 1970 but they make up 57.1 percent of the degrees in 2015 leaving 42.9 percent to men. In 2015, women graduates out numbered the men in associates, baccalaureate, masters, doctorate degrees and professional degrees. For the past twenty years the growth rate of women degree candidates in professions, primarily law and medicine, was 4 times that of men. Women will become the majority in the professions.
The master's degree has the highest annual growth rate at 3.30 percent starting from June 1990. The rate for women is 3.74 percent; for men 2.73 percent. Doctorate degrees are second with a growth rate of 3.24 percent a year, but the growth rate is the combination of a 1.95 percent for men and a 4.82 percent women. The 87,302 who received doctoral degrees is the highest ever. Women doctorates were just slightly over a thousand a year in 1960, but women passed men in 2007 and every year since with 47,173 in 2015.
The associate’s degree holds third place with an annual average growth rate of 3.02 percent. Not only is the growth rate higher for women but women had 617,358 degrees compared to only 396,613 for men. Baccalaureate degrees hold fourth place at an annual growth rate 2.22 percent. That means 800,396 more BA degrees in 2015 than 1990. Again growth rates for women are higher than men: 2.45 percent for women, 1.93 percent for men.
The slowest annual growth rates come in first professional degrees with an annual growth rate of only 1.20 percent. Medical Doctor, also known as the MD degree, has the lowest growth rate of professional degrees: .79 percent. Among other medical specialties podiatry and chiropractic medicine have negative growth, and optometry have low growth: 1.22 percent. Osteopathic medicine had 5,355 graduates and a growth rate of 5.34 percent since 1990. None of these other medical degrees are as important to the country as the MD degree where America's medical schools turned out just 18,302 graduates in 2015, 2,364 more than 1985-86. Veterinary medicine has higher growth than the MD degree, 1.31 percent, although lower numbers. Pharmacy degrees have the highest growth rate among first professional degrees. Pharmacy is the third leading first time professional degree with 14,304 thousand graduates in 2015 compared to 1,244 in 1990. Outside of medicine, law degrees continue to grow at a slow pace of .21 percent a year with 40,024 graduates in 2015, down from 43,772 in June 2014, but still 44.4 percent of professional degrees.
Degree Program Details 2015
The National Center for Education Statistics defines individual degree programs within a hierarchy of programs defined as part of its Classification of Instructional Programs, or CIP for short. Individual degrees are grouped as part of related degrees in a broader group of functional levels. For example, civil engineering is an instructional degree program within the broader functional level, engineering. Political science is an instructional degree program within the broader functional level, social science.
Associates degrees, were up slightly to 1,013,971 in 2015. The National Center for Education Statistics first started reporting associates degrees in June of 1966 when they were 111,607 graduates. They have increased with almost every year bigger than the last. Degrees in liberal arts and science, general studies and humanities continue to grow with 367,626 degrees in 2015, which was 36.3 percent of associates degrees and more than any other field of study. Health professions hold second place with 199,991; business degrees have third place with 113,630 degrees. Many with associate’s degrees go on to finish baccalaureate degrees but many associates degree have career oriented degrees that could be terminal degrees for entry level training. Personal and culinary services, criminal justice and corrections, mechanics and repairers are three degrees with 76,495 graduates in 2015 and specific entry skills to begin a career. Computer and information sciences and support services continued a fifth year of increase with 36,401 degrees, 79 percent men. The total remains below the 46.2 thousand degrees of 2003. Many of the technical programs in nursing, health, engineering and architecture provide entry skills, but also a beginning path to baccalaureate or advanced degree training.
Baccalaureate degrees were up to 1,894,934 for the year ending June 2015. The National Center for Education Statistics reports data for Baccalaureate instructional degree programs, also known as fields of study, or majors. Business baccalaureate programs had 366,799 degrees, the highest percentage of total BA degrees: 19.2 percent. Health care and related professions has second place in 2015 with 216,228 degrees and a 5 year average increase with 17,319 degrees, the highest increase of the broad BA degree fields of study. Social science degrees including history, political science, sociology, economics and history dropped in 2015 but still holds third place with 166,944 degrees, or 8.81 percent of BA degrees. Social Science degrees have a 5-year average decrease of 1,167 degrees.
No other field of study with BA degrees has as much as 7 percent of degrees. Psychology has 117,557 degree candidates at 6.20 percent of degrees. Biology and life sciences, and visual and performing arts have over 5 percent, and communications, journalism and related studies have 4.78 percent. Education has 91,623 graduates at 4.84 percent, primarily elementary education. Important degrees in computer and information sciences did increase from 50,962 in 2013 to 59,581 BA degrees in 2015. Computer and information sciences have a 5-year average increase of 3,998. Engineering did better with a 5-year average increase of 5,041 and 97,858 BA degrees in 2015, a 5.16 percent share. Several BA fields of study show a decline since 1990: English language and literature, social sciences and history, and liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities have a negative five year average change.
Masters degrees were up for the second year to 758,708 in 2015. The National Center for Education Statistics reports master’s degree data, which tends to be concentrated in a few fields. Like the Baccalaureate degree the masters degree in business holds first place with 185,222 master’s degrees and 133,896 of the degrees in the single program, the MBA degree. Business has 24.4 percent of master’s degrees. Education master’s degrees hold second place with 146,561 education degrees. All masters degrees in educational specialties are 19.3 percent of master’s degrees for the year ending June 2015. However, education masters degrees have a 5-year average decrease of 7,116.
Education is a degree level where there are more master’s degrees than baccalaureate degrees. Library science, social work, and counseling also have more masters than baccalaureate degrees. Library science had 99 BA degrees; 5,259 masters degrees for 2015. In education for nearly all the public schools teachers that earn masters degree in educational specialties open career opportunities teaching in specialized programs and move to a higher pay scale. The master degree is often directly tied with career opportunity and advancement.
Health professions hold third place with 102,897 masters degrees, 13.6 percent of the total. The largest master’s degree training occurs in nursing with 15,349 MSN degrees compared to 121,810 at the BA degree level. Public health is next with 8,482 degrees and health care administration and management is third place with 8,152 degrees.
There were 46,114 masters degrees reported for engineering masters programs. Computer and information services specialties had 31,474 master’s degrees for 2015, up almost 6 thousand from 2014. It has a five year average increase of 2,704, a modest increase compared to excellent job prospects. Chemistry leads physical science degrees, but with only 2,309 degrees. Mathematics had 7,589 master’s degrees but both math and science are small compared to business, education and health professions masters degrees.
Doctoral degrees were up to 87,302 for the year ending June 2015. Annual growth rates continue to be very high with a five year average increase of 3,415 doctorates. Doctoral candidates are up every year for over a decade. The health professions had 19,782 doctorates or 19.4 percent of doctorates for the year. The total does not include the MD degree, which is a professional degree. Second place goes to education with 11,772 doctorates and 12.1 percent of the total. Engineering had 10,239 PhD’s, or 10.7 percent of doctorates. Biology and biomedical sciences 8,053 degrees, or 9.1 percent; physical sciences 5,823 degrees, or 6.3 percent of doctorates. The biological and physical sciences have a higher share of doctorates than they do for baccalaureate degree programs. Specialties in psychology in 27 programs totaled 6,583 doctorates. In the social sciences, economics, political science, sociology and history have the largest share of the 4,828 social science doctorates. Business has only 3,116 doctorates, mostly the DBA. English language and literature shows a decline since 1970, but small growth after 1990 with 1,056 doctorates in 1990 and 1,418 in 2015.
Percentage Distribution of All Degrees Granted for the Year Ending June 2012
1. Business, management, marketing - - - makes up 20.1% of all degrees
2. Social Sciences, and history, lib-arts, general-studies, multi-disciplinary - - - 10.8%
3. Health Professions - - - 12.4%
4. Education - - - makes up 9.1% of all degrees
5. Physical sciences, Biological and Biomedical sciences - - - 6.4%
6. Psychology - - - 5.5%
7. Engineering - - - 5.6%
8. Visual and performing arts - - - 4.2%
9. English language/literature/letters, Area & ethnic stud, Foreign languages - - - 3.3%
10. Communication, journalism, and related programs - - - 3.7%
11. Public administration and social service professions - - - 3.0%
12. Computer science - - - 3.4%
13. Homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting - - - 2.7%
14. Parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies - - - 2.1%
15. Natural resources and Agriculture - - - 1.6%
16. Philosophy and religious studies, Theology and Religious Vocations - - - 1.5%
17. Family and consumer sciences/human sciences - - - 1.0%
18. Mathematics and Statistics - - - 1.1%
19. Engineering technologies/technicians - - - .8%
20. Architecture - - - .6%
21. Law and Legal studies - - - .5%
22. Library science - - - .2%
23. Communications technologies/technicians and support services - - -.2%
24. Transportation and materials moving technologies - - -.2%