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MBAs on the Rise (Whether You Like It or Not)

A recent look at U.S. Department of Education data reveals that over the past 40 years, the popularity of a business degree has soared.
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MBAs are taking over. Or, at least, they've come to represent the largest percentage of master's degrees earned today. 

That's what Vox concluded after analyzing U.S. Department of Education data from the past 40 years. In a recent post, Vox used a series of charts to document the rise of the MBA and other master's degrees since 1971. 

The charts show that a business degree has always been popular, second only to a degree in education until at least 2002. However, business degrees have steadily claimed a greater percentage of the total number of master's degrees each decade. Representing just 11.2 percent of the total in 1971, the number of MBAs rose to 25.4 percent in 2012 -- finally overtaking education degrees.

The huge price tag and abundant supply of recent business graduates have recently led pundits and experts to question whether or not the degree is really worth it. Some have argued that for aspiring entrepreneurs -- who are really seeking real world experience and a valuable professional network -- the answer is no. 

For example, Cliff Oxford, MBA, a former IT manager at UPS, has written that business today moves too fast, and entrepreneurs simply can't afford to spend time in the classroom. 

"Go only if you find a program that offers real-world experience, working alongside someone who is building a business," he writes. "Otherwise, while I wouldn't say the current traditional MBA is useless, it is pretty much like having athletes studying game film but never practicing on the field."

The rise of the MSCS, too? 

After Chamath Palihapitiya, founder of the venture capital fund Social+Capital Partnership, recently stated that Harvard Business School grads face discrimination from investors, Inc.'s Ilan Mochari tweeted him and asked if he would advise that entrepreneurs avoid business school altogether? 

Palihapitiya responded, "I would advise everyone to learn to code. What you do afterwards is your own moral hazard."

So what does the Vox analysis say about computer science master's degrees? The MSCS jumped onto the list of the 15 most popular master's degrees in 1981. Within one decade it climbed from 14th most popular degree to the sixth. It's since slipped to the eighth most popular, according to 2012 data.

However, similar to a aspiring entrepreneurs, aspiring developers also have options, as completing a master's isn't the only way to acquire the skills they need. By using online resources -- some free -- or even paying to attend coding bootcamp, entry-level programmers could potentially earn a valuable education, minus the huge debt.

But can they avoid competition from the sheer number of people who are after those skills as well? VentureBeat has said that "learning to code is the new Pilates." The publication reported that coding bootcamps will graduate 6,000 people in 2014, which is three time as much as last year. 

At a time when both the worlds of business and higher education are in flux, it will be interesting to watch and see how each of these numbers change in the coming years.

IMAGE: Patricia Drury/Flickr
Last updated: May 21, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.




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