State of the Education Market: Trends and Insights in Key Graduate Disciplines

Last updated on: April 21, 2023

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The world has changed in the past few years, and higher education is no exception. From a rush to online learning prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic to an economic shutdown and declining enrollments, the
market has undergone new and complex challenges.

So, how can you make the right decisions regarding your degree portfolio? We can help. Here’s a snapshot of US graduation trends at the master’s and doctoral levels based on the latest IPEDS completions data from the 2020-2021 academic year.

Click the image below to view the full infographic.

State of the Education Market: Trends and Insights in Key Graduate Disciplines

Master’s Level Trends

The top 3 master’s degree verticals
Ranked by number of graduates in 2021

#1 Business
23% of all master’s degrees

Business has been the largest master’s vertical since 2011, and its scale remains unmatched.

Fast facts
211,358 Total grads
1,269 Institutions reporting grads
51% Share of programs online
2% Average growth since 2016

Largest business programs by number of graduates
Business Administration- 105,796
Management Science- 25,912
Accounting- 16,746
Business, General- 8,488
Finance and Financial Mathematics- 8,315

The MBA edge:
More than 2x as many schools reported MBA grads (990) than the next most-common program, Accounting (472).

Most online business programs
Organizational Leadership- 73%
Business Administration- 66%
HR Management- 50%
Business, General- 44%
Management Science- 38%

As of 2021, these business degrees were…

Growing the fastest

Management Science
Business Statistics
Organizational Leadership
Supply Chain Management
Project Management
HR Management

Declining the fastest

Management Information Systems
Organizational Behavior Studies
International Business
Business, General

#2 Education
18% of all master’s degrees

Education has started to recover from the decline from 2011 to 2015 and the steadiness from 2016 to 2020. It grew for the first time in nearly a decade, up 5% from 2020 to 2021.

Fast facts
158,506 Total grads
1,180 Institutions reporting grads
40% Share of programs online
1% Average growth since 2016

Largest education programs by the number of graduates
Educational Leadership- 20,176
Education, General- 17,801
Curriculum and Instruction- 16,825
Special Education- 15,631
School Counseling- 11,039

Most online education programs
Educational/Instructional Technology- 72%
Curriculum and Instruction- 52%
Educational Leadership- 48%
Special Education- 42%
Higher Education Administration- 42%

As of 2021, these education degrees were…

Growing the fastest

Teacher Education, Multiple Levels
Special Education
Early Childhood Education
Higher Education Administration
Elementary Education

Declining the fastest

Education, General
Physical Education
Elementary Special Education
School Counseling
Curriculum Supervision
Curriculum and Instruction

#3 Health
16% of all master’s degrees

When it comes to growth, health programs are gaining ground. With grads more than tripling since 2004, health is on track to become the second-largest master’s vertical in the next few years.

Fast facts
144,198 Total grads
1,185 Institutions reporting grads
32% Share of online programs online
5% Average growth since 2016

Largest health programs by number of graduates
Registered Nursing- 18,773
Family Practice Nursing- 14,286
Health Care Administration- 13,394
Public Health- 10,873
Physician Assistant- 10,394

Most online health programs
Health Care Administration- 61%
Nursing Administration- 60%
Nursing Education- 53%
Registered Nursing- 49%
Public Health- 47%

As of 2021, these health degrees were…

Growing the fastest

Medical Informatics
Nursing Education
Athletic Training
Health Services Administration
Nursing Administration
Family Practice Nursing

Declining the fastest

Nursing Science
Marriage and Family
Adult Health Nurse/Nursing

More top master’s programs
Largest master’s programs outside the 3 leading verticals

  • Social Work
  • Computer Science
  • Public Administration
  • Computer/Information Sciences
  • Counseling Psychology
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Information Science
  • Psychology
  • Information Technology
  • Divinity/Ministry
  • Library and Information Science
  • Sport and Fitness Administration/Management
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Architecture and Architectural Sciences
  • English Language and Literature

Doctoral-Level Trends

The top 3 master’s degree verticals
Ranked by the number of graduates in 2021

These verticals made up 70% of doctoral graduates:
#1 Health
#2 Law
#3 Education

Leading the way: Health programs accounted for 44% of the doctoral market, reporting 2.4x as many grads as the next-largest vertical.

Largest doctoral programs by number of graduates
Law- 36,216
Medicine- 20,659
Pharmacy- 14,690
Physical Therapy- 13,145
Osteopathy- 7,428

Most online doctoral programs
Nursing Practice- 53%
Divinity/Ministry- 36%
Higher Education Administration- 33%
Occupational Therapy- 33%
Educational Leadership- 31%

In 2021, these doctoral degrees were…

Growing the fastest

Occupational Therapy
Nursing Practice
Family Practice Nursing
Social Work
Educational Leadership
Higher Education Administration
Biomedical Sciences
Nursing Science

Declining the fastest

English Language and Literature
Political Science
Clinical Psychology
Education, General
Electrical Engineering

A market standout: Most of the fastest-growing doctoral programs are in health. This field was already
growing pre-pandemic, but COVID-19 likely increased the demand for healthcare jobs and degrees.

Want to learn more?

For a closer look, download the full report today: State of the Education Market 2023: Trends and Insights in Key Graduate Disciplines

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