- Around 760,000 master's degrees were granted between 2014 and 2015, finds the American Enterprise Institute, but economic return on students' investments are not clear cut.
- Master's degrees in fields like philosophy, art and early childhood education yield the lowest earnings — sometimes less than that of an individual with a bachelor's degree or even associate's degree — while master's degrees in fields like business, information technology and engineering typically results in higher average pay.
- AEI calls attention to the fact that federal and state statistics on earnings for master's degree recipients in the labor market is lacking, and recommends larger amounts of census data be collected on graduate return on investment for specific degree programs, so students can better choose their options. AEI in its extended report offers data from three states on master degree recipients' earnings.
When it comes to choosing which degree programs to offer, Fielding Graduate University President Katrina Rogers told Education Dive it's absolutely essential the institution's programs align with workforce needs in order to address student ROI into the future:
"An additional question [presidents should] ask is about the nature of the human relationship to technology. It's not just with the conversations in automation or artificial intelligence. It's more about asking what is it that humans can uniquely do, because there are a lot of things that can and will be done by machines," said Rogers.
"To me, what are the talents that only humans can tackle? ... How do we know in 2018 what the jobs are going to be in 2030?," she added. "Presidents have to be thinking all the time on what are the trend lines, where are we headed."
As graduate students typically have fewer opportunities for financial aid and scholarship, investment in this stage of education comes with potentially greater costs. This reality was highlighted in November when swaths graduate students voiced their concerns — and plans to drop out of their programs — when the Higher Education Act came with a proposal to tax graduate stipends as income.
AEI reports there is little data regarding graduate student earnings into the labor market as compared with those of bachelor degree recipients. The report authors say the onus is on state and federal policymakers to work with institutions to better collect information on the value of the master's degree — particularly as the credential starts to become just as scrutinized as the liberal arts degree currently is currently being questioned.