A couple of recent stories to comment on. They each highlight the changing demand for graduate education. The University of Akron just announced plans to drop 80 academic programs. Half of those cuts will be masters and doctorate programs. Meanwhile Inside Higher Ed reports on the case of a small private college that plans to exit the grad school market completely.
The growth in demand for graduate education, and the master's degree in particular, has definitely stalled after increasing at a steady clip for several decades. To be sure, the fraction of millennials enrolling in graduate school has never been higher. The problem is that fraction has stopped increasing.
Although there are surely many causes (strong labor market, high cost, etc) the overall trend is probably rooted in a fundamental demographic driver that has stalled itself. My guess is we'll likely be around zero growth for some time to come .
Some Data from the US Education Department
There are a few ways to look at slackening demand. In my mind, population-adjusted graduate enrollment probably makes the most sense. As you can see this hasn't changed since 2010. About 4.5% of millennial-age people in the US are enrolled in graduate school, a number we've been stuck on since 2010.
Most of this slackening demand is for masters degrees. I've blogged previously about the concept of the peak master's degree.
For several decades the driver in graduate school growth had been the growth of college enrollment rates. In the 1960's only about 25% of high school graduates went to college. That number has grown slowly but steadily over about 5 decades to where it is now just under 70%. The problem is that it has been just under 70% for the past decade or so.
Those ever-growing enrollment rates functioned like a built in feed forward loop. The increasing fraction of young people entering college led to more entering graduate school, eventually.
Can always-growing demand ever come back? Sure, maybe. There is no question that advanced degrees lead to good things: more earning power, higher rates of employment and even more fulfilling occupations. But if your job is to model out future demand for the masters degree, I suggest you take a sober look at secondary school enrollment trends, which are falling.
Flat is the new normal.