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Master’s degree programs surge at nation’s colleges and universities

The nation’s colleges and universities are churning out master’s degrees in sharply rising numbers, responding to a surge in demand for advanced credentials from young professionals who want to stand out in the workforce and earn more money.

From 2000 to 2012, the annual number of master’s degrees issued jumped 63 percent, federal data show, growing 18 percentage points more than the amount of bachelor’s degrees. It is a sign of a quiet but profound transformation under way at many prominent universities, which are pouring more energy into job training than ever before.

The master’s degree, often priced starting at $20,000 to $30,000, is seen by some universities as a moneymaker in a time of fiscal strain. It is seen by students as a ticket to promotions or new careers. For them, the lure of potentially increasing their salary by many thousands of dollars a year outweighs the risk of taking on large tuition bills and possibly debt.

George Washington, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins universities all award far more master’s than bachelor’s degrees each year, a Washington Post analysis of federal data found. Georgetown, for example, awarded 1,871 bachelor’s degrees and 2,838 master’s in 2012.

“The master’s degree has become a much more important part of the American mobility story,” said Katherine Newman, dean of arts and sciences at Hopkins.

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