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Master's numbers drop

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | MARCH 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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Wary of rising costs, the number of students pursuing master’s degrees at the University of Iowa is dropping— even as one type of master’s degree sees an increase nationally.

In fall 2009, 2,211 students were enrolled in master-degree programs, according to Graduate College statistics. In fall 2013, 1,740 students were enrolled — a decrease of 471 students, or 21 percent.

“Anecdotally, from students we hear case-by-case, they’re concerned about [rising costs],” said Graduate College Dean John Keller. “Particularly, in our master-degree programs, we’re seeing fewer numbers of students who are pursuing academic master’s degrees because those students do not receive much, if anything, in the way of support. They’re paying for it themselves.”

There are two types of master’s degrees. Academic master’s degrees are either a Master of Arts, or M.A., or a Master of Science, or M.S. Last fall, 1,226 students enrolled in such programs, compared to 1,361 in fall 2009.

On the other side, professional master’s are more career-oriented degrees such as the master’s of public health or computer science. Officials say there is a perception that professional master’s are more likely to lead to a job after graduation.

“We’ve seen a decline of [academic master’s students] over the years,” Keller said. “People are just in general saying, ‘Hey, why would I want to pursue this master’s degree in this field and come out with that kind of debt and then not position myself very well to get a job with that degree?’ ”

Keller said nationally, there’s an increase in students pursuing professional master’s degrees, looking for better job security after college. However, the number has dropped at UI. In 2009, 850 were enrolled in such programs and 514 in 2013.

He said this is because of the large rise in the number of students enrolled in the doctor of Nursing program — 24 in 2009 and 201 in 2013 — and concerns about debt. He also speculated more students are instead opting to enter to job market after receiving a bachelor’s and are holding off on graduate work until they have more work experience.

Melissa McCrae, a UI Ph.D. candidate in English, expressed surprise at the drop.

“I think that a lot of students are anxious about the cost of education, so I would assume more students would get a master’s degree than a Ph.D., and that the numbers of master’s degrees would be going up because it is becoming less and less the candidates’ job market and more the employers’ market,” McCrae said. “Someone who holds a master’s degree would render you a stronger candidate for any job.”

Ben Gillig, the president of the UI Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students, said he is concerned about how the university handles graduate assistantships, which help fund graduate tuition.

“Historically, the university was a bit more generous in the way they are paying for students with assistantships who were essentially teaching or doing research with faculty,” Gillig said. “There has been a bit more rationing recently of these assistantships.”

Keller said the graduate school has been shifting resources into summer support, end-of-program support, and accelerated degrees to help students reduce costs. He and Gillig also pointed to this year’s increase of funding from the state Legislature, which will allow graduate tuition to rise around the rate of inflation.

Gillig added fewer students might be enrolled due to the recent improving economy, but that master’s degrees will be further emphasized in the future.

“A bachelor’s degree is far less unique then it maybe way 30 or 40 years ago, when having a bachelor’s degree was a guarantee of a middle-class or white-collar job,” he said. “I think graduate and professional programs will only grow in importance over time.”


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