Va. grads earned record number of bachelor’s degrees
Commonwealth has a goal of being the best-educated state by 2030.
Virginia awarded a record number of bachelor’s degrees to college and university graduates in 2018-2019, awarding 122,168 degrees and postsecondary certificates — a roughly 50% increase from a decade ago, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) announced Friday.
Of the degrees awarded, 86,325 — more than 70% — were earned by in-state students. Bachelor’s degrees comprised 46% of degrees awarded while 25% were graduate degrees, 16% were associate degrees and 13% were postsecondary certificates.
Business administration, management, psychology and biology/biological sciences topped the list of bachelor’s degree programs.
Students who attended public four-year institutions earned 45% of degrees and those who attended public two-year and private nonprofit four-year institutions received 27% and 28% of all awards, respectively.
One contributing factor to the high number of degrees given out is the number of high school students graduating in Virginia. Among Virginia high school graduates who have been out of school for 16 or fewer months, approximately 70% enroll in a postsecondary education program, such as a two-year or four-year degree program or a certification program, says SCHEV Director Peter Blake. However, the number of high school graduates in Virginia is expected to level off in the next decade due to demographic changes, he adds.
“In order for us to do our work well, we need to have that number be higher,” Blake says about the percentage of high school graduates enrolling in and earning degrees or certificates from postsecondary education programs. This is in part due to the fact that some students enter programs without finishing.
Virginia saw a record number of degrees awarded last year in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health (STEM-H) fields and Blake anticipates the number of STEM-H degrees to continue to grow during the next eight to 10 years due to new programs being offered by higher education institutions.
In 2014, SCHEV set a goal for Virginia to become the best-educated state by 2030 as part of its Virginia Plan for Higher Education. The Virginia Plan includes targets such as raising degree completion to a total of 1.5 million awards, increasing research expenditures by 30% and improving the affordability of higher education.
Aside from the number of degrees awarded, SCHEV measures affordability, access and completion of education as part of the annually reviewed Virginia Plan — set to be reviewed next week by SCHEV’s Council.
Some measures and strategies may change after the SCHEV Council reviews the agency’s most recent annual report, as this is the sixth year the plan has been in place. This year, staff developed updates to the measures, targets, related indicators, according to SCHEV’s Jan. 7 council meeting agenda.
“For the most part, the goals and the vision to be the best-educated state by 2030 remain intact,” says SCHEV Finance Policy and Innovation Director Wendy Kang. “How we’ll get there will still be the same focus we’ve had in the past.”