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Beyond a Bachelor's Degree: Big Gains for Graduate School Attainment

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The number of people with some graduate education now exceeds the number who have just a bachelor’s degree –36 million to 30 million, one of the interesting findings in the newly released 2013 educational attainment table package.

The Great Recession, which started in December 2007, saw the economy and job growth decline. Adults without job prospects will sometimes stay in school to further their education but also with the anticipation that when they finish, employment opportunities will be greater.

A recent Census Bureau release showed a  4.5 million student increase in college enrollment since 2001.  As a consequence  of the increase in enrollment,  educational attainment has also increased in recent years. In 2013, 65.6 million adults age 25 and over had a bachelor’s degree or higher (31.7 percent), up from 50 million in 2003 (27.2 percent).

An interesting aspect of the increase in education has been the rising tendency of people with a bachelor’s degree to return to school and get more education. The number of adults who have completed some graduate school increased 24 percent from 2008 to 2013, from 29 million to 36 million. That is to say, 7 million more people have experienced at least some graduate school education than was the case five years ago. As you can see, going to graduate school for additional education beyond a college degree has become the majority experience for those with a bachelor’s degree.

It is too early to tell how many people will end up with graduate degrees out of the total who have continued their education beyond college. However, a large portion have already completed a graduate degree. The number of adults completing a master’s degree grew by 18 percent from 2008 to 2013, and the number completing a professional or doctoral degree grew by 20 percent. By comparison, the number with a bachelor’s degree who haven’t pursued any further education has shown little growth—only a 2 percent increase over the past five years.

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Page Last Revised - November 14, 2022
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