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National university graduate student enrollment on the decline

By Michael Sin
On October 4, 2012

  • The members of Punch Brothers, a five-man bluegrass outfit that has performed around the world and topped the US Grass Chart. Students may know them best as the performers of ‘Dark Days,’ a song featured on the soundtrack of ‘The Hunger Games.’. Photo courtesy of Danny Clinch

For the second year in a row, enrollment rates for graduate schools have fallen in the United States. A report from the Council of Graduate Schools has found that students are increasingly saying no to further education after a spike in 2008 and 2009. These peaks happened during the financial crisis, where the unemployed found respite in graduate education to further their credentials in the hope of finding a job.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual unemployment rate for 2009 was 9.3 percent, compared to 8.1 percent for August 2012. Headaches caused by undergraduate school debts have also contributed to the decline. The dropping graduate numbers are partially attributed to government budget cuts, forcing public schools to slash financial aid to students.
The education sector took the largest tumble, with a drop-off of 8.8 percent from 2011. Graduate Duncan Keith is one of the 433 graduate students pursuing a master's degree at UConn's highly acclaimed Neag School of Education. He says that the problem lies with employers hiring workers who are less experienced.
"With people losing jobs, employers are actually passing on more qualified possible employees, and going with the cheaper option," Keith said. "With the competitive nature of so many colleges, the simple bachelor's degree is all an employer needs, in many cases. More money is usually required with a higher degree, so unfortunately, some employers are simply training staff to do more rather than hire more educated options."
President of the Council of Graduate Schools Debra Stewart says that public schools are under high pressure to enrich the skills of teachers. Graduate enrollment for arts and humanities fell by 5.4 percent, reflecting small opportunity for employment as universities discharge tenured professors.
"The school systems especially, are in financial stress," Stewart said. "Teachers are no longer being provided time off to get graduate degrees, and schools are no longer funding principals to go back and get principal certificates."
Despite the waning enrollment numbers, 3rd-semester English and economics double major Sebastian Correa plans to enroll in an MBA program after graduation.
"Although I plan to go into a master's straight after graduation, the only thing that's discouraging me is the price. It's obscene," Correa said. "We live in an increasingly competitive society where we have to get a master's degree in order to remain competitive. Now, companies aren't paying to train you anymore, you have to be ready to get in the corporate world."
Although the number of grad school applications has increased by 4.3 percent, the acceptance rate across all master's and doctoral programs have fallen from 44.6 percent to 40.8 percent from the time between 2007 and 2011.
 


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