Workforce and Graduate Education: Where Are the Opportunities?

By Hironao Okahana, PhD January 17, 2020 May 11th, 2021 Blog Post

Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.

Accounting for about 22 percent of student enrollment in four-year U.S. colleges and universities, graduate and professional education is no small part of the higher education ecosystem. It is a complex landscape, featuring programs that focus on scholarship and professional practice, respectively. In all cases, however, workforce awareness is one lens through which governing boards may add value to considerations of starting, growing, and expanding graduate programs. A few points to keep in mind:

  • Demand for highly educated workers continues to grow in the United States, as does graduate enrollment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs that typically require a master’s degree and those that require a doctoral or professional degree are expected to grow over the next decade by 13.7 percent and 9 percent, respectively. Applications and first-time graduate enrollment show steady growth as well, despite the improving unemployment rate, according to the CGS/GRE Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees. Mathematics and computer sciences and health sciences are the fastest-growing areas of study; and the nation’s largest graduate enrollments are in business, education, and health sciences.
  • Graduate degree recipients value education that aligns with their careers. A recent study by Strada and Gallup found that career value and cost value appear to be related for alumni of graduate programs. Further, the study found that career relevance is more important at the graduate level, on average, which underscores the importance of alignment between graduate and professional programs and workforce needs.
  • Despite gains, women and people of color are still underrepresented in some fields of study. The CGS/GRE survey shows that this is particularly true in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This is one example of how strategic boards must consider building and enhancing graduate and professional education in terms of program effectiveness, including degree production and student outcomes.

Hironao Okahana, PhD, is associate vice president, research and policy analysis, at the Council of Graduate Schools and is also adjunct faculty and Higher Education Program affiliate at George Mason University. During AGB’s 2020 National Conference on Trusteeship (April 5-7, 2020, in Washington, DC), he will lead a session focused on strategic opportunities in graduate education.