Why Graduate Education?

Considerable recent discussion has focused on how well graduate education serves our society. The discussions primarily follow two lines of reasoning:

Additionally, there are three common personal reasons why individuals often choose to pursue graduate education:

Contributing to the Public Good

As the Council of Graduate Schools recent report on Graduate Education and the Public Good states: "The benefits of higher education have never been clearer than they are now, in this rapidly growing and changing global economy. The challenges facing the United States in the 21st century are complex and daunting. Having a large pool of people with advanced knowledge, skills, and abilities who can solve complex, tough problems is the best way to meet the challenges now and in the future.... Graduate education works as a catalyst for many individuals who have initiative, drive, and talent to become successful and contribute to the public good.... These educated and dedicated people touch every sector of our economy and society."

See the full Graduate Education and the Public Good report for an expanded discussion on how graduate education contributes to:

  • Creating the workforce for the new global economy
  • Conducting groundbreaking research
  • Turning research discoveries into useful technology
  • Developing entrepreneurs and innovators
  • Preparing future college and university faculty
  • Developing leaders for business, nonprofit, and government sectors
  • Preparing the K-12 teacher workforce
  • Establishing new start-ups that create jobs
  • Strengthening communities through social action
  • Promoting public health initiatives
  • Enhancing society through arts, humanities, and social sciences

Ensuring Our Quality of Life

"Only by providing leading-edge human capital and knowledge capital can America continue to maintain a high standard of living—including providing national security—for its citizens."

This quote is by Norman Augustine, the chair of the National Academy of Sciences panel who issued a report in 2006 entitled, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. In Augustine's own words, the report calls out that "America is in substantial danger of losing its economic leadership position and suffering a concomitant decline in the standard of living and safety of its citizens because of a looming inability to compete in the global marketplace." Graduate education is a key factor in countering this trend. As Augustine reasons, if the United States is to "provide its citizens with the opportunity for high-quality jobs, it will require the nation to excel at innovation—that is, to be first to market new products and services based on new knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge. This capacity to discover, create and market will continue to be heavily dependent on the nation's prowess in science and technology."

For additional details, see both the original report, and Augustine's subsequent follow-up Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth?

Where the Jobs Are

Numerous sources concur with the CGS Graduate Education and the Public Good report that "In the world that looms before us, a bachelor's degree alone will no longer suffice, and more jobs than ever will require both advanced degrees and advanced credentials.... According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one-sixth of the fastest growing occupations for 2006-2016 require a master's or doctoral degree."

Higher Degrees Net Higher Salaries

There is a clear indication that people with graduate degrees earn significantly higher salaries on average than those without, generally at least $10,000 more per year with each degree. The actual figures vary a bit depending on the studies, however. For example, the March 21st, 2008 issue of U.S. News & World Reports states, "The average worker with a college degree earns about $42,000 a year. Master's degree recipients earn an average of $52,000. Ph.D.'s earn an average of about $71,000 a year. And those who've earned professional degrees such as law or medicine earn an average of about $82,000." Postsecondary Education Opportunities research calculates the mean instead of averages and indicate each degree garners close to $10,000 more per annum. See the full 2006 Postsecondary Education Opportunities results. >>

Engaging in Research

Undertaking graduate studies gives one the opportunity to explore a field of knowledge as a professional, doing original research and contributing to the sum of human discovery. As a member of the prestigious American Association of Universities (AAU) and a Tier 1 comprehensive research university, the top classification of American research universities, with a long tradition of research excellence and interdisciplinary, collaborative research, CU-Boulder offers an exceptional environment for graduate research.

Personal Satisfaction

Ultimately, of course, many people choose to pursue graduate education because they love a particular subject and have a strong desire to grapple with its complexities and explore its fine nuances. Graduate studies often begin at the threshold of the unknown about any given subject, and students undertake one of the biggest adventures of their lives in learning beyond what is known and then imparting that knowledge to others. This is the point where learning becomes creative, and it can be immensely satisfying; some talk about it in terms of the "production of knowledge", others as "research and scholarly work"; and yet others as "art." It is the juncture where through one's own learning one can contribute to others.