2015 Commencement Ceremony: Georgetown University conferred over 500 MPS degrees in 2015.

The past 20 years have seen tremendous growth in the number of master’s degrees awarded—and this trend shows no signs of stopping. Indeed, according to the report "Understanding the Changing Market for Professional Master's Programs" by the Education Advisory Board (EAB)—which does market research for colleges and universities—within the next seven years master’s degrees will account for nearly a third of all postsecondary degrees.

But there’s a twist: this increase won’t be coming from “traditional” master’s programs. “The new growth will come primarily from professional master’s programs focused on specific job skills that help students gain a new job or advance in an existing position,” the EAB report said, referring to degrees like the Master of Professional Studies (MPS).

The importance of any college degree to future job earnings cannot be overstated. An August 17 report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce titled "Good Jobs are Back: College Graduates are First in Line," said that 2.9 million “good jobs” (those that paid upwards of $53,000) have been created since 2010, and that 2.8 million of these positions went to college graduates. But the higher education advantage doesn’t stop with a bachelor’s degree.

“We’re creating a lot of bachelor-degree jobs, but people with graduate degrees are the ones who have really seen their earnings go up,” said Andrew Hanson, a Senior Analyst for the Center.

A Different Kind of Master's Degree

To help meet the increased demand, Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies (SCS) offers a broad range of MPS degrees and Executive MPS degrees, and plans to add more based on the evolving needs of working professionals and employers.

SCS currently offers MPS degrees in the following subject areas:

Though all master’s degrees help increase a person’s ability to advance within his or her career, “what really sets job seekers apart is having in-depth knowledge that no other candidates have, and that comes from the type of skills conferred in a very specialized master’s program,” said Lisa Geraci, a Senior Consultant for EAB. “It’s no longer enough to be just a generalist.”

Four Kinds of “Working Professionals”

How does an MPS degree differ from a “traditional” master’s degree? The answer speaks to both the types of students who enroll and the type of education they are receiving.

First, the students: they are usually “nontraditional,” meaning not right out of college. They are, on average, a few years older. And perhaps most significantly, they are usually employed. But the term “working professionals,” while accurate, isn’t precise enough to describe their specific needs. Thus, EAB divides them into four groups:

  • Career Starters—Recent graduates seeking a professional degree before entering the workforce. (These, of course, do not fit the “nontraditional” or “working professional” designations.)
  • Career Changers—Mid-career adults seeking graduate degrees to move into new fields.
  • Career Advancers—Mid-career professionals seeking graduate degrees in order to earn a promotion or a raise.
  • Career Crossers—Mid-career professionals seeking cross-training to advance in current fields.

If you were to put yourself into any one of these categories, what kind of program would you want? What would best serve your needs? Answer these questions, and you get a pretty good idea of what MPS programs are designed to do and how they differ from other master’s programs.

Most fundamentally, MPS degrees teach students very specific knowledge with the goal of helping them in their current careers, or in a career they are aiming to pursue. Theoretical knowledge taught by more traditional master’s programs may be useful, but most students need practical, applicable skills that they can use in their current workplaces.

MPS Programs Are Tailored to Student Needs

One of the biggest advantages of professional programs like the MPS, students said, is the opportunity to connect with students and faculty who work in the field. There are ample opportunities for networking, internships, and other career advancement benefits. Not only does this make for fascinating class discussions, but also provides students with established industry contacts, an advantage when they look to advance in their careers.

For those seeking to enter an MPS program, academic prerequisites are just as important as workplace skills, life experience, and, of course, the potential to use the MPS to advance the candidate’s career and the needs of society.

Because most students are working and their time is limited, they need a master’s program that has an accelerated format and flexible class times that can work around their schedules. A well-designed professional degree program “breaks through the constraints of geography, schedule, age, and academic preparation that have historically and artificially limited the master’s degree marketplace,” the EAB report said. “Freed of these constraints, professional master’s programs appeal to the needs of a much larger population.”