By EDITH ZHOU
Capital News Service
LANSING – U.S. graduate schools saw a 1.7 percent dip in enrollments of first-time students between fall 2010 and fall 2011, marking the second consecutive year of slight decreases, according to a recent national report.
The main reasons for the decline can be attributed to the economic cycle and policy changes.
Overall, according to the survey, more than 441,000 students began graduate studies in fall 2011. First-time enrollment in master’s and certificate programs declined 2.1 percent, while doctoral programs enrolled 0.5 percent more new students.
According to the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, 67,711 graduate students are enrolled in 15 public universities in the state, which is a slight decrease of 0.8 percent compared to last year. Nine of the 15 universities had fewer graduate students.
At Central Michigan University (CMU) for example, more than 1,800 graduate students enrolled last year, about 45 fewer than in fall 2011.
Patricia Farrell, director of university outreach and policy research at the Presidents Council, said many enrollment changes are caused by the economic cycle and state or federal policies.
“For example, when the No Child Left Behind program was implemented, teachers needed advanced degrees, so colleges of education were overflowing, but now these colleges are seeing low graduate enrollments due to new federal and state policies on different degree requirements that teachers need.”
Two more examples of graduate fields affected by the economy are engineering and business.
“A few years ago, when we had the automobile manufacturing downturn, the automakers quit sending their engineers back to college for advanced degrees, so some universities with expertise in engineering saw lower enrollments,” Farrell said.
Farrell said enrollments at graduate schools influence the local economy but it is more likely that regional institutions such as CMU will take a hit versus schools like Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Wayne State University.
“Regional institutions are keys to the local and state economy. Schools like MSU and U of M educate more graduates who leave the state or return to their home country,” she said.
The report shows that business and education saw the largest increases in admissions offers. Strong gains were also seen in social sciences and psychology.
Wei Zhou, director of the Office of Institutional Research and Planning at CMU, said that there are currently 563 international students with 90-95 percent of them in graduate programs. Most are from China.
Zhou said that number is smaller than the previous year and in the long run, the lack of international students does influence the school.
“A 4 percent decrease doesn’t matter, but we are now looking for more international students because the in-state market is saturated and Michigan’s population is declining. So we have to reach out to both out of state and foreign countries,” she said.
Farrell said, “International students will have more economic impacts because most of them pay out-of-state tuition, which give universities more revenue. And their housing, auto and health care also influence the local economy.”
However, Debra Stewart, the president of the national Council of Graduate Schools based in Washington, D.C., said that 2012’s growth of international applications remains uncertain. The council did the study.
“Given the current global economy and increasing global competition for talent, we must continue our efforts to attract students from countries where numbers of student applicants are slowing, as well as those such as Brazil and China, where there is renewed momentum to pursue graduate study in the U.S,” she said.
Based on the study, interest in pursuing graduate degrees remains high and continues to grow despite the overall decline in first-time enrollments.
The report showed a 4.3 percent bump in applications between fall 2010 and fall 2011. Institutions that participated in the annual survey reported nearly 1.88 million graduate applications across all fields of study.
Engineering, business and social and behavioral sciences accounted for the largest numbers of graduate applications.
Stewart observed that the gap between growing applications and dropping enrollments should be seen as a call to action.
“Graduate education is a cornerstone of a thriving, highly-skilled workforce, and a graduate degree holds out lifetime benefits for individual students.
“While the 1.7 percent decrease in first-time enrollment is not dramatic, the fact that we are now in the second year of reversed growth is a sign that we must respond with strong investments in graduate programs and student funding,” she said.
By EDITH ZHOU