2021 Completions: Bachelor’s Program Trends

January 5, 2023

The most recent IPEDS data reveals that completions are on an upward trend, especially for online programs.

More than two million bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 2021, up slightly (1.2 percent) from 2020. In fact, bachelor’s completions have risen 1.4 percent annually since 2016, despite concerns about declining enrollment.

As we saw in our blog on master’s programs, the majority of growth has come from online programs. In comparison, online has a much smaller share of completions at the bachelor’s level (12 percent in 2021) than master’s programs, where 37 percent of programs were completed online in 2021.

Bachelor's Program Completions by Modality

Source: Gray’s Program Evaluation System (PES)

The Big Three Academic Disciplines: Business, Health, and Social Sciences

At the discipline level, business programs are the most popular. They are the most popular programs at the master’s level as well. At the second spot are health-related programs, followed by programs in the social sciences. These three disciplines had 22 percent of all bachelor’s completions in the US in 2021.

Within the top 10 disciplines, those seeing the highest year-over-year growth in completions were Computer & Information Sciences (up eight percent) and Psychology (up six percent).

2021 Bachelor's Completions: Top Disciplines

Source: Gray’s Program Evaluation System (PES)

Programs with the Highest Completion Volume

In 2021, at the program level, Business and Registered Nursing programs were the largest, with over 172.2k and 165.9k completions, respectively. Online completions accounted for a significant share of completions for both of these programs.

Psychology programs were the third most popular bachelor’s program, with almost 115k completions. These programs made a comeback in 2021, with completion volumes up four percent over 2020 after remaining fairly flat for the previous four years.

2021 Bachelor's Completions: Largest Programs

Source: Gray’s Program Evaluation System (PES)

Fastest-Growing Bachelor’s Programs 

Fastest-Growing Bachelor's Programs* Completions Growth 2016-2021 (CAGR)

Source: Gray’s Program Evaluation System (PES)

*Excludes programs with fewer than 1,000 completions in 2021, and programs classified as “Other” with CIP codes ending in xx.xx99.

According to the chart above, Econometrics and Quantitative Economics was the fastest-growing bachelor’s program over the past five years, while Architectural and Building Sciences/Tech came in second. However, this is misleading. The apparent growth here is instead an indicator of a different trend: institutions changing their CIP-code reporting to align with incentives favoring STEM programs. These top two programs are STEM-qualified equivalents to the non-STEM Economics and Architecture programs. 

Online Academic Program Completion Trends

The top 10 list for online completions includes many of the same programs on the top 10 list for overall completions, with a few notable additions – namely Health Care Administration, Liberal Arts (which is often a degree completion program), Information Technology, and Elementary Education.

2021 Bachelor's Completion: Largest Online Programs

*Excludes programs classified as “Other” with CIP codes ending in xx.xx99.

Source: Gray’s Program Evaluation System (PES)

Up Next: Associate Program Trends

Stay tuned for our next blog in the 2021 Completions series, where we will examine program trends at the associate level.

Previous posts in this series, as well as other Espresso blogs, can be accessed here.

Please join us on January 12th for this year’s webinar on Five Emerging Programs for 2023 when we will unveil our picks for 2023.

Elaine Rowles


Elaine works with Gray’s education clients on strategic planning projects, program portfolio evaluations, program feasibility studies, price benchmarking, and research-intensive custom project work. She has performed in-depth analyses of existing programs and institutions, as well as assessed demand and employment opportunities for new and emerging programs.

About Gray DI

Gray DI provides data, software and facilitated processes that power higher-education decisions. Our data and AI insights inform program choices, optimize finances, and fuel growth in a challenging market – one data-informed decision at a time.

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