Graph via the Washington Post.
Graph via the Washington Post.

Oh, haven’t you heard? A master’s degree is the new bachelor’s. The New York Times calls it “credential inflation”; the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education says it’s an “endless loop” where universities offer more programs, which leads to job recruiters requesting more advanced degrees, which leads to more students getting master’s degrees, which leads to… well, you get the picture. Nationwide, the number of people getting master’s degrees rose 63 percent from 2000 to 2012 — and schools in DC, Maryland, and Virginia are producing quite a few of them.

According to the Washington Post, Johns Hopkins gave out 4,785 master’s degrees over the past decade (including my own!), making it the nation’s 9th largest producer of master’s candidates. The school gave out 34 percent more degrees in 2011-12 than it did a decade previously. Meanwhile, Georgetown saw its annual production of bachelor’s degrees creep up by 12 percent in the same period, while master’s production rose by a whopping 82 percent.

“The master’s degree has become a much more important part of the American mobility story,” Hopkins’ new dean of arts & sciences Katherine S. Newman, told the Post. “Once upon a time, American industry would have expected people to learn on the job. Increasingly, employers are looking to universities. We are becoming more of a training machine for American industry at the high-skill end.”

One way schools are attracting new students is by coming up with new, highly-specialized programs; instead of getting a degree in art history, at MICA students become masters of “curatorial practice”; at Towson, instead of a general religious studies degree, you can master in Jewish communal service.

The idea is that specialization will lead to better jobs in a competitive economy — but plenty of people have voiced concern that the degrees aren’t necessary, that they’re merely cash cows for hungry universities, and that they add to students’ already-high debt burden. What do you think, Baltimore?