UI sees drop in grad student enrollment


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The first decrease in new graduate-student enrollments in seven years has surprised education officials.

Nationwide colleges, including the University of Iowa, saw numbers fall by 1.1 percent between fall of 2009 and 2010, the "Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 2000 to 2010" report said.

At the UI, enrollments dropped by 1.6 percent between the fall of 2009 and 2010. But UI officials are optimistic enrollment will not continue to dip.

So far, the fall of 2011 shows only a .06 percent decline, said John Keller, the dean of the UI Graduate College.

"To be honest, that's the kind of typical fluctuation that we see," he said. "It's not something that we worry about."

Despite decline in enrollment, the nation had an 8.4 percent increase in graduate program applications — slightly higher than the UI's 5 percent increase.

And experts are trying to make sense of the unusual statistics.

Normally, graduate enrollment increases with a poor job market, said Barmak Nassirian, an associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Offices.

"This is the first time that we see the job market as bad as it is and we see a decrease particularly in master's programs," he said. "We are all looking at these numbers and trying to make sense of them."
Nassirian said he suspects more students are applying but not enough are following through and committing to a program.

But the fluctuations of individual programs at the UI are of more concern than overall trends, Keller said.

Education program enrollments at the UI were reduced by 5 percent, and in the last decade, humanities decreased by 3 percent, while health sciences increased by 6 percent, Keller said.

"If it were at 2, 3, or 4 percent, then it'd be concerning," he said.

Officials agree rising costs in the public sector coupled with the threat of piling debt could be a deterrent, especially when graduate students rely financial aid and loans.

"It's more instability and uncertainty about the future in terms of the whole economic outlook," Keller said. "They are less likely to go to school unless they get support."

Additionally, the UI tends to financially support more doctoral students than master's students because of their research effect on the university, Keller said.

For Rebecca Robinson, a UI second-year doctoral student, attending graduate school is a way to invest in her career.

"Grad school might not be the most attractive option," the 26-year-old said, "Because graduate students don't typically get paid as much. The rewards are more long term."

In the future, as the economy and job market settles, students may return to school, but for now, many choose to wait it out.

"It's basically like a vote of no confidence in an economic return on these programs," Nassirian said. "That's that best we can figure out."

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