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Master's Degrees More Popular, Increasingly Online

JANUARY 4, 2019

Master's degree programs have grown more popular, enroll more diverse students and are increasingly offered online, according to a new report from the Urban Institute.  They are also getting more expensive, with net prices having risen faster for master's degrees than for bachelor's degrees.  About 785,000 master's degrees were awarded during the 2016-2017 academic year, a rate of two master's degrees for every five bachelor's degrees. according to the analysis, which was authored by Kristen Blagg, a research associate in the Institutes's educational policy program.  Over the past two decades, master's programs gradually have enrolled a larger share of students from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds.  For example, the share of African American and Hispanic students has nearly doubled over that period, to 25 percent in 2016 from 14 percent in 1996.

The rate of enrollment in online master's courses has increased substantially since 2000, and is more common than among bachelor's degree programs.  The analysis found that 31 percent of students enrolled in master's degree programs reported that their program was entirely online, with 21 percent reporting that they took some (but not all) classes online.  Prices are outpacing the popularity of master's degrees, however, as tuition and fees for full-time master's students rose by 79 percent over the past twenty years, compared to a 47 percent increase for full-time bachelor's students.

The patterns just described certainly fits with what is happening with private, Christian higher education institutions.  Many of the early institutions began as terminal types of training schools for those who were not attending seminaries or graduate schools.  However, an increasing number of Christian colleges and universities are now offering master's degrees and even doctorates in a variety of academic fields.  Similarly, many churches in North America are looking for pastors or church staff with graduate-level training.  Undergraduate theological education has become less terminal and more foundational for career preparation.   It is quite encouraging to see the advancements that have been made in Christ-centered higher education with respect to graduate-level education.  

Larry J. McKinney
Higher Education Consultant

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