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Graduate College loses $700,000 to provide financial aid

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | OCTOBER 01, 2014 5:00 AM

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As the University of Iowa undergraduate population reaches record-breaking heights, the Graduate College enrollment continues to fall.

Overall, the non-undergraduate student population has seen a decrease over the years, but the Graduate College specifically, has seen a majority of these losses.

Since 2009, the number of students enrolled in the Graduate College, which is mostly Ph.D. and master-degree programs, has decreased from 5,323 to 4,610 students, a loss of 713 students.

“It’s spread out over across campus,” said Graduate College Dean John Keller. “It’s not just any one particular program.”

According to UI registrar reports, there are 9,033 students who are enrolled in graduate and professional programs or postgraduate training. The Graduate College is included in this group.

As a result of its drop in enrollment, the graduate school specifically has had to cut its financial aid budget by 8 percent, or $700,000, this year.

“Over the years that we’ve had budget reductions and reallocations … we’ve spared the financial-aid part of our budget, and we’ve offered to reduce resources on the research assistantships,” Keller said. “This year, because of the reduction in the number of students, central administration decided to allocate less than what we had been receiving in the past.”

The $700,000 budget cut is equal to 35 $20,000 academic year fellowships, which offer tuition and stipends in exchange for research and teaching.

“That’s starting to get to be an important number,” Keller said. “A couple here and there over a couple years, but 35 in one year is a lot … that we’re not able to distribute.”

To account for dropping enrollment, Keller pointed to decreased funding available for students for teaching and research assistantships, as well as departmental difficulty in securing grants to support students. With fewer financial resources available, fewer students are likely to enroll.

The Daily Iowan previously reported 33 Ph.D. programs — nearly half of 67 offered at the UI — were deemed ineligible to nominate students for fellowships, based on perceived lower retention and degree completion rates.

The English program was one to lose eligibility in anticipation of the budget shortfall.

English Department head Jonathan Wilcox said the program was able to attract a strong class based on their strengths for the department.

“But we would sorely love to also have those fellowship packages — or some equivalent — to be able to attract the very strongest students,” Wilcox said in an email.

Ben Gillig, governmental relations head for the UI Graduate and Professional Student Government, noted an improving economy, saying fewer people may feel the need to pursue upper-level work to improve their job prospects and economic situation.

In an attempt to boost enrollment, graduate-school officials said they plan to look toward expanding career-oriented master-degree programs such as those in computer science and public health.

They also plan to propose a new master’s in business analytics to the state Board of Regents.

However, doctorate programs will take a back seat.

“From one standpoint we’re trying to find programs that have an attraction to students so they can become professionally developed to join the workforce quicker and sooner,” Keller said. “At the doctoral level, there are simply declining resources that support the number of programs that we have.”


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