Data shows continuing rise in graduate student enrollment

Andrew Keiper

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

According to data given by Wayne Schneider, director of Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, from fall 2011 to fall 2015, data 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 College of Podiatric Medicine’s program began strong, with an initial enrollment of 430 students. Enrollment remained steady and in fall 2015, that number was 452, according to Schneider.

“The College of Podiatric Medicine at Kent State is unique in that it is one of only nine schools who offer a doctorate of podiatric medicine degree,” said Vincent Hetherington, senior associate dean of the College of Podiatric Medicine.

The breakdown of men and women enrolled in pediatric medicine varies as well. 

“The current enrollment of the College of Podiatric Medicine is roughly 440 students,” Hetherington said. “Of those students, 61 percent are male, 39 percent are female and nine students are regarded as international students.”

Hetherington said that he expects the College of Podiatric Medicine to maintain the maximum enrollment of 125 students in the program (per semester as new students) as “the demand for podiatric physicians continues to grow due to the rise in obesity and diabetes.”

The School of Digital Sciences’ program is one that has seen exponential growth since its launch in Fall 2012. It began with a low enrollment of only 21 students. That number grew significantly to 537 by Fall 2015, according to Schneider.

Robert Walker, director of the School of Digital Sciences, said the program is so attractive to graduate students because it allows them to study courses outside of their undergraduate background.

In addition to a wide selection of available courses, the digital sciences graduate program attracts a diverse student population too.

“We have admitted a large number of students from India in recent semesters,” Walker said. “We admitted approximately 30 new Indian students in Spring 2014, 100 in Fall 2014, 160 in Spring 2015, 270 in Fall 2015 and 230 in Spring 2016.”

The program also boasts gender diversity that is above the national average for computer science programs.

According to Walker, women comprise 34 percent of the program’s graduate students. Walker said he expects to enroll a similar number of students in the fall semester of 2016.

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. While this growth creates a unique community on the Kent State campus, it also provides some difficulties for students transitioning to American academic bureaucracy, according to Yarrison.

Yarrison said international students also face the struggle of finding jobs and housing while at the universities, and graduate students can experience isolation within their individual colleges of study.

The GSS and Division of Graduate Studies do their best to 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 (is) 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, we are able to provide more graduate students with funding for travel and research through the Domestic Travel, International Travel, and Research Awards,” Navale said. “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.”

“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,” Whitehead said.

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.”

Whitehead said she hopes to further increase the amount of graduate student enrollment and to reach each college’s highest potential.

“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].