Data show rising number in graduate student enrollment

Andrew Keiper

Varying colleges within the university have experienced an increase in graduate student enrollment over the past couple of years due to several factors that prompt both benefits and struggles for students and administration.

According to data given by Wayne Schneider, director of institutional research, from fall of 2011 to fall of 2015 shows a net increase of 850 graduate students.

These students are enrolled in varying levels, from Doctoral and Master’s Programs to Graduate Non-Degree and Professional degree programs.

In 2012, Kent State launched two new graduate programs, Podiatric Medicine and Digital Sciences. The Podiatric Medicine program began strong, with an initial enrollment of 430 students. Enrollment remained steady and in the fall of 2015 the number rose to 452, according to Schneider.

The Digital Sciences program is one that has seen exponential growth since its launch in the fall of 2012. It began with a low enrollment of only 21 students. That number had grown significantly to 537 by the fall of 2015.

Aside from the addition of two popular programs, the university has also seen an increase in the number of international students pursuing graduate degrees.

“I haven’t looked directly at the numbers, but my understanding is (graduate students) are a big portion of the rise,” said Fritz Yarrison, executive chair of the Graduate Student Senate (GSS). “There is a pretty substantial amount who are graduate students.”

The numbers match this statement. From 2006 to 2015, the number of international graduate students increased by about 900. This growth creates a unique community on the Kent State campus, but also provides some difficulties for students transitioning to American academic bureaucracy, according to Yarrison.

Yarrison said graduate students can struggle with isolation within their individual colleges, while international students can struggle to adapt to the American academic bureaucracy and find difficulties finding jobs and housing at the university.

The GSS and Division of Graduate Studies provide social and academic infrastructure to the students to mitigate some of these struggles.

“GSS supports all graduate students,” said Suparna Navale, finance chair of the GSS. “If there are an increase of international graduate students, we expect to have more applications for awards and participation from them.”

According to Navale, the senate’s budget comes from student fees. With increases in enrollment, they’re able to increase spending on support programs and awards.

“With the increased budget,” Navale said. “We are able to provide more graduate students with funding for travel and research through the Domestic Travel, International Travel, and Research Awards. Additionally, we are able to grow the Graduate Research Symposium each year to include a larger number of student presentations.”

In addition to the growth of international graduate students and the birth of two new programs, the upward trend of graduate enrollment can be attributed to economic factors as well.

“In a sluggish economy, job seekers recognize they can gain a competitive advantage in the job market with an advanced degree,” said Lana Whitehead, director of Graduate Admissions. “Generally speaking, with each advanced degree an individual earns, they can expect increased lifetime earnings and decreased rate of unemployment.”

Whitehead says that, “according to the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), overall first-time graduate enrollment was up 3.5 percent nationally in 2014 compared to the previous year.”

National economic trends may contribute to an increased desire for advanced degrees, but departments of study are responsible for the recruitment of prospective students at Kent State, according to Yarrison.

“Grad school is about recruiting people who want to be here,” Yarrison said.

the ‘why’ isn’t as important as the want when dealing with potential students, according to Yarrison.

“Prospective graduate students consistently cite three priorities in their search for a graduate program: quality of the program, affordability, and career pathways,” Whitehead said. “It will continue to be important that we highlight our strengths in each of these areas and effectively communicate the (Kent State) experience to prospective students.”

Increased funding for the GSS coupled with an intentional approach toward graduate growth from the university has created a perpetual cycle of rising enrollment that appears to be sustainable.

“As the recently appointed director of Graduate Admissions, I anticipate working collaboratively with each of the colleges to reach their enrollment goals,” Whitehead said. “Together we will build on the stellar reputation of the faculty and Kent State to attract quality candidates to our programs.”

Andrew Keiper is the graduate education and research reporter for The Kent Stater, contact him at [email protected]