Grad School Completion Varies by Demographics

January 11, 2017

As enrollment in graduate programs becomes more common, income, race and ethnicity continue to play major roles in determining who pursues these advanced degrees, according to research from the Urban Institute.

A new report -- titled “Who Goes to Graduate School and Who Succeeds?” -- is the first in a series exploring graduate enrollment patterns, funding and completion. This brief explores the demographic breakdown of students who pursue advanced degrees.

The authors came to several key conclusions in the report:

  • Students from high-income backgrounds disproportionately pursue graduate degrees, complete master’s degrees and choose a field that promises high wages. When students from low-income backgrounds go to graduate school, they most often pursue master’s degrees, rather than professional or doctoral degrees, which result in higher average salaries.
  • Of black students who hold bachelor’s degrees, about 36 percent earn advanced degrees -- similar to the number of white students (37 percent) who do. However, only 8 percent of black adults aged 25 years or older holds an advanced degree, compared with 14 percent of white adults, indicating that the larger hurdle is completing a bachelor's degree. The authors described the bachelor's degree-holding black students as having "already beaten the odds." Black students are also more likely to complete master’s degrees over other graduate degrees.
  • Men, Asians and younger students are significantly more likely to enroll in professional graduate programs, such as medicine or law. Conversely, master’s degree programs tends to attract more women, African-Americans and low-income students.

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