Describing program award levels
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Describing program award levels

Education levels that people attain are described differently across data sets, and even across years within some data sources. Therefore, presenting the education levels in a consistent manner across time and across data sets led to a few compromises which we detail following.


Within IPEDS (higher education) data there was a change in reporting after the 2010-2011 academic year. For the 2010-2011 year and earlier, IPEDS reported:

  • First-professional degrees requiring at least two years of college-level work and at least six years of higher education (this designation was intended to catch doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, etc.)
  • Professional certificates describing further specialization by these individuals; and
  • Doctoral degrees -- degrees like the PhD or EdD

After the 2010-2011 academic year, IPEDS changed their designations:

  • Doctoral degree - research/scholarship: must include advanced work beyond the master's level and the preparation and defense of a dissertation containing original research (PhD, EdD, DSc, DM, etc.);
  • Doctoral degree - professional practice: a graduate degree that takes at least six years in higher education and provides the knowledge and skills for the recognition, credential, or license required for professional practice; and
  • Doctoral degree - other: a doctoral degree that does not meet the requirements of the previous two designations.

In the interest of being able to share trends over the years, Ididio treats all first-professional degrees and professional certificates as professional doctorates, and all pre-2010/11 doctoral degrees as research doctorates. We don't have a way to pull out degrees that might not have met either the research or professional standards in the pre-2010/11 designations, so our mappings can only give an idea of historic trends and may suggest some early programs contained more scholarship than was actually the case.


In our programs and careers pages, we explore the education attained by workers and degree-holders using ACS household microdata from the Census Bureau. This survey records whether someone holds

  • A professional degree beyond a bachelor's degree (e.g. MD, DDS, DVM, LLB, JD); or
  • A doctorate degree (e.g. PhD, EdD).

Similar to our work to in marrying the older and newer IPEDS data, we map the professional degrees to the same bin as IPEDS professional doctorates, and then doctoral degrees to the research doctorates. The disadvantage of this mapping is that we may be counting some less scholarly doctorate degrees as research doctorates.

In the 2017 completions data from IPEDS, 82% out of all doctoral awards were research doctorates, 16% were professional doctorates, and 2% were in the "other" designation. This limited use of "other" leads us to be comfortable in overlooking that designation for the purposes of comparison.