After taking a look at some data from the NSF about doctoral recipients by major field of study (1983-2013), I noticed something very interesting: All fields have experienced growth in the number of conferred doctorates except for Education. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Since 2008, the average doctoral conferral rate has grown by +8.16%.

  • Life sciences: +11.0% since 2008, +119.61% since 1983.
  • Physical sciences: +14.23% since 2008, +112.34% since 1983.
  • Social sciences: +11.79% since 2008, +34.22% since 1983.
  • Enginering: +13.98% since 2008, +222.29% since 1983.
  • Education: -24.65% since 2008, -31.08% since 1983.
  • Humanities: +19.98% since 2008, +69.72% since 1983.
  • Other: +10.17% since 2008, +82.36% since 1983.

Assuming an average annual population growth of 1%, the numbers above still suggest a relatively positive growth in the number of doctoral degree holders over time. Again, though, this is for all major fields (as identified here by the NSF) except for education. What gives?

To add to the sorrow of all the educational researchers reading this, let’s further break down the Education field by sub-categories:

Education field Since 2008 Since 1983
Education administration -56.79% -40.75%
Education research 2.42% -12.21%
Teacher education -59.49% -77.02%
Teaching fields -1.86% -32.55%
Other education -46.98% -59.05%

Besides a temporary increase in conferrals in 2013 since 2008 in education research, all fields were basically destroyed with some experiencing close to a 50% decline. The field of education – at least in 2013 – is plummeting.

Of course, there are a lot of ways to interpret this. For starters, we might conclude that a majority of the educational occupations are completed by master’s degree holders. Another thing to consider is that perhaps there are disciplinary trends overtime, and the demand for other industries are outweighing the demand for educational scholarship.

Finally, the worst possible outcome is that people are no longer interested in studying education. That’s actually pretty good for me because it ensures demand for my specific skillset – unless, of course, there is a shift in the perception of the value of education scholarship in the future. (I sure hope not!).

For the sake of your own sanity, here’s are lists of the top 5 and bottom 5 doctoral conferral growth fields:

Top 5 Gainers:

  • Other engineering, 41.35%
  • Aerospace, aeronautical, and astronautical engineering, 31.20%
  • Other humanities, 29.81%
  • Mathematics, 29.79%
  • Materials science engineering, 28.14%

Top 5 Losers:

  • Teacher education, -59.49%
  • Education administration, -59.79%
  • Other education, -46.28%
  • Education (all disciplines avg), -24.65%
  • Civil engineering, -23.84%

Does this mean that we can expect a continuous attenuation of doctoral leaders in higher education studies? That’s the field that I am in, and already I can see my colleagues leaving one by one. In fact, my cohort started at about 80 and in just a few months we’re already down to 17.