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College degree trends

by Adren Setian
November 24, 2022
5 min read
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Over the years, the most popular degree programs change. Check out this guide to learn more about college degree trends.

Being aware of the trends of a college degree can aid students when choosing their future majors and their careers after college graduation, as these trends often reflect trends for employment and job opportunities in the professional world when they are college graduates.

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According to the U.S. Department of Education's recent NCES report on education statistics, which records the most recent data regarding the trends of college degrees, there are a significant number of important trends with respect to higher education degrees.

First, we will define postsecondary education to get a working baseline of the institutions we are talking about. Postsecondary education includes academic institutions, career schools, technical schools, and continuing professional education programs after high school. American universities and colleges, along with career colleges and technical colleges, offer a vast array of postsecondary opportunities.

Understanding trends of degrees is important, as it can help students choose a future career path after college graduation, however, students should also understand what a college major is in order to be more fully prepared. Being able to choose a major and a degree path can be a key part of your future academic and professional success.

Regardless of the college or university, the following dataset represents trends in college degrees you need to know about. As such, we have compiled the most important information into a compact report for ease of use.

College degree basics

Americans are completing more years of education than ever before. For example, education statistics show the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed high school rose from 86% in 2005 to 91% in 2015; likewise, this same group who were bachelor's degree holders swelled from 29% to 35% during this same timeframe. Additionally, from 200-2010, enrollment in 4-year and 2-year colleges rose an astounding 37% to 21 million from 15 million.

College degree growth

Here is a quick hit of growth in college degrees conferred for the most recent reporting period (2004-2014) by the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Associate's degrees conferred increase by 51%
  • Bachelor's degrees conferred increased by 34%
  • Master's degrees conferred increased by 34%
  • Doctorate degrees conferred increased by 41%

For more information about data on degrees, visit our blog post to find the Most Popular College Majors in the United States. A list of the most popular degrees divided by state and graduation year will help students grapple with majors, schools, careers, and educational opportunities that exist in each domain.

High-growth degree tracks

Below is a brief list of high-growth degree programs in the U.S. with the largest percentages of growth from 2009-2014 culled from the NCES latest report.

Computer and Information Sciences grew 46%

Computer and information sciences focus on developing and using software for use in practical problems and everyday life.

Engineering fields accelerated 29%

Engineering is an extremely broad field with many different options of concentrations for students to choose from. These include electrical engineering technologies, mechanical engineering technologies, artificial intelligence, and more.

Agriculture and Natural Resources tracks grew 41%

Jobs related to agriculture and natural resources include animal geneticist, veterinarian, aqua cultural manager, and more.

Health Professions and Nursing spiked a whopping 65%

Health professions and related programs are the degree track that has experienced the most growth with the highest percentage. The health professions field includes a wide number of specializations to do with health professions and nursing.

Public Administration & Social Services jumped 40%

The field of public administration and social services consists of private institutions and public institutions that create and implement programs intended to provide services to communities and neighborhoods to create positive change. The degrees which can lead to a job in public administration and social services are numerous and can include majors such as social sciences.

Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, and Firefighting are up 49%

Many jobs related to these fields do not require a bachelor's degree and are excellent options for those with a high school diploma, associate's degree, or GED.

Parks & Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness are up 45%

College graduates who follow this degree track will likely go into a career path after college graduation that emphasizes encouraging people to get outdoors and stay active.

Math and Statistics accelerated by 35%

College graduates who follow this degree track can find job opportunities such as finance, computing, analysis, and more following their college graduation.

Associate degree growth

Actual and projected growth of associate's degrees conferred in the U.S.

Total: actual growth of 78% from 2000-2013 with a projected 14% trajectory through 2024

Male: a 73% increase from 2000 to 2013 with a projected growth of 10% more associate's degrees through 2024

Female: female graduates saw an 82% spike from 2000-2013 with a future growth trend of 17% through 2024.

associate degree college degree growth

Bachelor degree growth

The actual growth of bachelor's degrees conferred in the U.S.

Total: bachelor's degrees conferred increased by 49% from 2000-2013.

Male: a 48% increase from 2000 to 2013.

Female: a 49% spike from 2000-2013.

bachelor's degree college degree growth

Master degree growth

Actual and projected growth of master's degrees conferred in the U.S.

Total: actual growth of 62% from 2000-2013 with a projected 36% trajectory through 2024

Male: a 54% increase from 2000 to 2013 with a projected growth of 38% through 2024

Female: female students experienced a 69% spike from 2000-2013 with a future growth trend of 34% through 2024.

master's degree trends master's degree growth

Doctor degree growth

Actual and projected growth of doctorate degrees conferred in the U.S.

Total: actual growth of 47% from 2000-2013 with a projected 19% trajectory through 2024

Male: a 31% increase from 2000 to 2013 with a projected growth of 20% through 2024

Female: a 67% spike from 2000-2013 with a future growth trend of 18% through 2024.

doctor degree trends doctor degree growth

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Adren Setian

About Adren

Adren has always loved writing both fiction and nonfiction, always with the intention to help other people. At, she loves being a specialist who works to help students reduce their student debt and make financially wise decisions about the future of their education. 

Past experience that informs Adren’s expertise includes working with the Education and Employment Team of Catholic Social Services Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services. Being a research assistant analyzing data for research projects at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Several years as the Assistant Manager of an Equine Education program where responsibilities included creating and developing curriculums. Time spent volunteering as the Vice President and Senior Graphic Designer for the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Psychology Club and Psi Chi Honor Society chapter with the goal of furthering students’ professional skills and knowledge of the field of Psychology and building a sense of community.

Adren would like to end her introduction with a land acknowledgement relevant to Anchorage, Alaska, her hometown and place of residence: “Dena'inaq ełnen'aq' gheshtnu ch'q'u yeshdu. (Dena'ina)” [I live and work on the land of the Dena’ina. (English)] — Translated by Joel Isaak and Sondra Stuart

Adren is no longer with the Writing Team, but we continue to value and appreciate her contributions.

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