Is a master’s degree the new bachelor’s?

Is a bachelor's degree not good enough anymore?

That's what education writer Laura Pappano suggests in a piece in the New York Times over the weekend. She explains the mounting appeal of the fastest-growing degree in the country: The master's.

The number of master's degrees given out since the 1980s has more than doubled. Now, two in 25 adults aged 25 and over have a master's degree--about the same percent as had attained a college education or higher in 1960.

The one-to-two year masters programs--which are often quite pricey--are becoming ever more specialized and vocation-oriented. Economist Eric A. Hanushek told Pappano that workers pick up the tab for the credential--and then employers reap the rewards of more highly trained employees, without having to invest in that training themselves. "The beneficiaries are the colleges and the employers," he said.

Either way, people with higher education have weathered the economic downturn and unemployment crisis much better than those without. The unemployment rate for Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher was 4.4 percent in June, much lower than the 8.2 percent average for the general population of workers 25 and older.