Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Graduate school enrollment down, applications up

By Sam Hayes

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Enrollment for first-time graduate school applicants dropped for the second straight year, despite the amount of applications increasing 4.3 percent, according to a Council of Graduate Schools report released in September.

The report, compiled with surveys received from 655 graduate institutions that give out the majority of all graduate degrees, shows that between the fall of 2010 and the fall of 2011, enrollment for first-time students fell 1.7 percent, after falling 1.1 percent the previous year.

Almost 60 percent of the 441,000 first-time graduate students who did enroll, enrolled at public institutions. Private non-profit schools saw the biggest decrease in first-time enrollers, in contrast to last year.

Despite this year’s drop, enrollment in graduate programs in general has increased by 2.8 percent since 2001 and Ph.D. programs saw the lone enrollment increase at 0.5 percent between 2010 and 2011.

The decrease in enrollments was greater for women than men, with a 2.2 percent decrease for women applicants versus 0.9 percent with men. Enrollment also decreased in fields such as education, arts and humanities, while it increased in health sciences, business, computer sciences and mathematics.

The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote an article on the report, and Council of Graduate Schools President Debra Stewart said that interest in pursuing graduate degrees is increasing despite the lower enrollment numbers. She pointed to institutions’ financial cutbacks leading to less open spots for students, students’ growing debt, less state appropriations for public universities and the abolition of the federal graduate loan subsidy in July 2013 as reasons for the enrollment decrease.

She told the Chronicle that this decrease in enrollment is “a matter of serious concern almost across the board for U.S. students … it’s time we reaffirm our commitment to graduate education and avoid accelerating these trends.”

The University of Massachusetts spring enrollment reports have shown enrollment rates to be fairly consistent, with 290 students enrolling in graduate programs in spring 2012, 269 enrolling in spring 2011, 293 enrolling in spring 2010 and 278 enrolling in spring 2009.

As graduate school application deadlines approach, some UMass seniors are working on their applications and seeing what part they will play in next year’s statistics.

Legal studies major Shea Miller is preparing to apply to ten graduate schools.

Miller, who took his LSATs two weeks ago, said he is applying to this many schools because “some law schools on the east coast take people from the west coast, and some on the west take the east, it’s about getting lucky … increasing your odds.”

He said the applications fees haven’t been a problem for him and he has been able to have most waived with a few phone calls. He said he thinks the rise in applications shown in the report is logical.

“It makes sense, you can’t really get a job anymore with just an undergraduate degree, so there’s nothing else to do [but apply to graduate school],” he said.

UMass neuroscience major Tyler Blevins said that he thinks the rise in applications makes sense, but so does the lower enrollment numbers.

“With a higher number of applicants they have to accept less people, become more stringent with admission process, to get the most qualified people,” he said.

Blevins is applying to study biomedical sciences, and agrees with Miller that applying to many schools is a good route to take. He said he was applying to “as many schools as possible” for “diversification’s sake and to increase [his] odds of getting accepted.”

Senior Livia Raducan, 21, is planning to apply to less schools, two or three, for an elementary education degree, but she is not even sure if she wants to immediately follow her undergraduate schooling with graduate school.

“What I’m going for I don’t really need grad school at the moment, so it’s just kind of the smart thing to do now,” she said, but admitted that the whole process is intimidating.

“It’s very stressful,” she said, “because people usually start by applying now, and I haven’t even started the process which makes me wonder if I should even do it now … I have to take the [MTELs] and I don’t want to rush anything.”

Raducan hopes to enroll in the UMass program. She said that she already knows at least 50 students applying for the 25 available spots and they all have letters of recommendation from the same people.

Sam Hayes can be reached at [email protected].

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