Copyright © 2022
Beyond the Professoriate
Over the past decade, universities have seen a rapid increase in graduate student enrollment in master’s and doctoral programs. But that trend is starting to shift: the rising cost of graduate degrees, and negative press about master’s and PhDs struggling with debt and unemployment, are making people question the value of advanced degrees.
As a result, many graduate programs are seeing a decline in enrollments: this past year, graduate enrollment declined in the United States for the first time since 2012 by 0.5%.
While that doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that graduate enrollment had increased between 2 and 3% year over year for the past decade. (National Student Clearinghouse)
This decline in graduate enrollment is part of a troubling trend: an increasing number of 18 to 35-year-olds doubt the value of advanced degrees.
When surveyed about their attitudes towards higher education, Millennials and Gen Z share three common concerns:
While graduate degree holders have a lower unemployment rate than the general public, 40% of master’s degree holders are working in jobs that do not require or benefit from their advanced degrees. (Survey by Payscale)
40% of master’s degree holders are working in jobs that do not require or benefit from their advanced degrees.
In fact, 40% of master’s degree programs and 60% of MBAs have a negative return on investment. (The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity)
Underemployment for PhDs is complicated. Only 3% of jobs require a JD, MD, or PhD, and so most PhDs end up working in jobs that only require a bachelor’s or master’s degree. These jobs typically pay better than in academia.
For PhDs who are employed in academia, their careers are marked by low wages and precarious working conditions.
When alumni fail to build careers, they blame their education and their institutions.
Stories of struggling graduate alumni have appeared in all major publications, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Atlantic, NPR, Nature, and the Wall Street Journal.
Alumni share their struggles on social media, too:
The reputation of an institution and, in turn, its long-term financial stability are directly connected to alumni career success.
Our research shows that one of the main reasons graduate students are struggling to land jobs is that they do not know how to conduct a successful job search: 50% of graduate students lack foundational knowledge about how to job search.
When they are unable to land a job in their chosen career field, they question the value of the degree.
But it’s not the degree that is failing them; it’s their job search strategy.
We’ve prepared a short whitepaper 2022 Report on the State of Career Outcomes for PhDs and Master’s which you can download here. (We’ve included our list of references in the report.)
This report provides information about the challenges graduate alumni face when they job search, and how institutions are scaling career and professional development to prepare more graduate students for career and job search success.
Click to download the report, no email required.
The Center frequently conducts research on graduate students and higher ed. Sign up to receive our latest updates and research.
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