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Trends in bachelor's and higher degrees.

Trends in Bachelor's and Higher Degrees

The Nation's colleges and universities granted more than 1.3 million degrees at the bachelor's level and above in 1985-86. The number of bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees all rose compared to the previous year, but the number of first professional degrees declined, the first decline in 15 years. This article highlights significant changes in the number of degrees granted by sex, academic field, and racial and ethnic group.

Between 1970-71 and 1985-86, the number of bachelor's degrees granted increased by 18 percent. (See chart 1.) The trend has not been steadily upward, however; the number declined between 1973-74 and 1976-77 and then turned back up. The number of master's degrees awarded declined continuously from 1976-77, when it reached 317,000, until 1983-84, when it hit 284,300; but it rose to 288,600 in 1985-86. (See chart 2.) The number of first professional degrees awarded rose even more sharply than the number of bachelor's degrees, more than doubling from 34,600 in 1969-70 to 75,000 in 1984-85--with all the increase in the past 10 years being due to women; in 1985-86, however, the total declined to 73,900. (See chart 3.) The number of doctor's degrees awarded has changed less than the other kinds of degrees, hovering around 32,000 for most of the period. The number of women earning doctorates has gone up continously, however, rising from under 4,000 in 1969-70 to more than 11,800 in 1985-86. (See chart 4.)

The position of women in higher education has changed strikingly since 1970-71 (see chart 5), when men earned three bachelor's degrees for every two earned by women. Women earned more bachelor's degrees than men did in 1981-82 and every year thereafter. They continue to earn most of the bachelor's and first professional degrees granted in home economics, library and archival sciences, education, and foreign languages--fields that women have traditionally dominated. (See table 1.) They also continue to earn more than 60 percent of the degrees in fields in which they have long had a strong representation: Health sciences, public affairs, letters including English, and visual and performing arts. And now they also earn more than half of all the degrees conferred in fields such as parks and recreation, communications and communications technologies, general studies, and social sciences. Women have also made significant gains in business and management, law, protective services, computer and information sciences, and agriculture and natural resources, increasing their share by 20 percentage points or more. Only in engineering and engineering technologies and military science do men continue to receive more than 85 percent of all degrees.

The major fields of study of graduates changed dramatically between 1970-71 and 1985-86, reflecting the response of students to a changing job market. (See tables 2, 3, and 4.) Business and management increased as a share of all bachelor's and first professional degrees from 13 percent to 22 percent. Other growing fields include health sciences, engineering and engineering technologies, computer and information sciences, communications and related technologies, and general studies. Fields such as history, sociology, English, and education declined 50 percent or more. Education, which had the largest numerical decline, should begin rising again in response to the increased demand for teachers brought on by rising school enrollments and reduced class size.
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Author:Gartaganis, Arthur
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1988
Words:552
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