Meditations on the MPH, part 2

by JP Leider, PhD

Meditations on MPH 2

I made you something.                                                Meditations on MPH 2

Every year, sometime vaguely in the late summer or early fall (or late fall), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) releases its annual data on institutional completions, AKA degree conferrals, AKA degrees awarded, AKA students graduated. Over the past few years, I and others have looked deeply at these data to try and better understand our field.

There is some disconnect between governmental public health and public health education in terms of supply and demand. I don’t say this to be controversial – it is well documented in the literature and landmark IOM reports. It’s part of the reason that there have been massive redesign/futuring efforts among the schools and programs of public health over the years – to try and better align curricula with the needs of employers. As we talked about last time, those employers seem to be less and less in government public health. But let’s put a pin in that. I want to talk about the present I made for you.

NCES just a couple weeks ago released its 2018 update (meaning it now reports degrees “completed” through academic year 2018). Because NCES releases these data annually, and because there are really good institutional-level characteristics, we can chart trends in really detailed ways – by region, state, size, or even at the institutional level. So, this present is a fairly simple Tableau dashboard. It uses data from NCES, and lets you view the growth and evolution of public health degrees awarded at the master’s level.                                                  Meditations on MPH 2

I hope you like it. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I could do.                  Meditations on MPH 2

It’s not perfect in part because there are always some questions about measurement error and reporting accuracy  – there’s some disconnect between what’s reported by institutional registrars to NCES and the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. So, take these estimates with a few thousand grains of salt, plus or minus. Still, these few slides tell us quite a bit.

First, let’s take a minute and be somewhat sad for us as a society that interest in (and support for) master’s level education is on the decline. In the next few years, the category of health programs will likely overtake education as the second-most awarded type (behind business). We now have almost 100,000 more degrees awarded per year than in the early 1990s. Remarkable.

Second, as we dig into the health category, we can see nursing is driving the rapid growth of the entire category – but also that NCES’ 51.22 program code (public health) is a strong second. Once you include some programs that really ought to be under 51.22 (ie, epidemiology, biostatistics, health policy analysis), that number bumps up past 17,000 master’s degrees a year in 2018. As has been discussed for some time, the generalist master’s degree has become the most popular type, followed by discipline specific degrees.                                                    Meditations on MPH 2

I’ve also added a little drop-down menu where you can look at institutions within a state of your choice, and see what’s been reported to NCES over time by institutional registrars. But again, take these numbers with a grain of salt.                Meditations on MPH 2

One of the most fascinating things I see in here is that bachelor’s of public health is growing, much faster than any other degree level. Both bachelor’s and master’s degrees have been growing in a sustained way for over 15 years. But given slowdowns in the number of applicants to graduate schools, there’s pretty good reason to think that bachelor’s will overtake master’s as the dominant degree level awarded in public health. There are reasonable questions about what that means for the field. Will there be substitution effects between bachelor’s and master’s, as we saw with education in the 1990s? What will master’s education look like in a decade with us trying to keep up with these trends?

How do we balance the aspiration of training future public health leaders and the future public health workforce when the reality is that so few of our graduates go into the governmental public health workforce? What ought our priorities be in training students to go into the field (whatever that means)?

That’s a lot of questions. For now, I’ll look at the pretty charts – and look forward to reading your thoughts on the matter.                                            Meditations on MPH 2

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Author Profile

JP Leider
Jonathon P. (JP) Leider, PhD, is an independent consultant in the public health and health policy space, as well as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Minnesota and Associate Faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He has active projects and collaborations with foundations, national public health organizations, public health researchers and academics, and public health practitioners. His current projects focus on public health systems, the public health workforce, and public health finance. He holds a PhD in Health Policy and Management from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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