Council of Graduate Schools Report: New Enrollment sees 1st dip in 7 years

The word “dip” is typically getting a bad rep these days, what with it being operationalized quite prominently as the characterizing descriptor of the pessimistic trend we see permeating across a variety of economic/societal indicators. This, unfortunately, overshadows the other glorious attachments of the word: “guacamole-,” “-shit,” “a – in the pool,” and something presumably offensive as utilized in Urban Dictionary to describe the reverse cowgirl.

This recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, quite unsurprisingly, may give us yet another opportunity to further scorn the word. However, it would behoove us to reassess the validity of this almost reflexive inferential outcome, as the situation described by the new Council of Graduate Schools report may not exactly be a bad thing – at least, for some of us (for example, the some of us who are genuinely interested into going into academia as a calling, among others).

The major findings are as follows:

  • The number of new students enrolled in the nation’s graduate schools in Fall 2010 fell by 1.1 percent. (The first fall in 7 years)
    • This stands in contrast to the increase in enrollment between 2009 and 2010, which came up to about 5.5 %.
  • This also stands in contrast to increases in applications. In Fall 2010, the amount increased by 8.4% from the previous year.
    • Typically, this can be interpreted as graduate schools experiencing a growth in selectivity ratings. (Unlike Wes this past year)
  • About half the new students enrolled were either in the fields of education, business, or the health sciences.
  • The majority of those new students are in programs seeking Masters degrees or other equivalent-level graduate certificates.
    • No numbers were crunched out about PhDs in the article.
    • The reasoning behind this increase is somewhat easy to infer, according to the article. It essentially boils down to: Bad Economy -> Causes need to increase employment edge -> Goes to get an MA/MSc to get that edge -> Drives up application numbers -> Drives down enrollment rate (given the relative rigidity in total capacity of those programs)
  • International students (like myself) witness an increase in enrollment rate: 4.7% jump from the year before. Why? No tentative explanation is offered.
  • Going across the data based on ethnicity, a drop can be seen across most groups: Caucasians (0.6%), American Indian/Alaskan Native (20.6%), Black-American (8.4%), and Asian/Pacific Islander (0.1%).

Now, from my cold read using my very poorly-constructed-pre-B.A. brain, this is what I can draw out from the article/report:

  • MA’s are in general going to have a hard time compared to PhD candidates.
    • That being said, the two tracks are not comparable. The investment-to-return paradigm for PhD students is still dramatically higher than MA students, especially if we think about the time spent getting the degree as well as the employment-style of the institutions that take in folks from those pools.
  • It was suggested in the article that it is likely that companies are now less willing to foot the graduate school bill for some of their current/future employees due to the bad economy. Kids heading into summer internships hoping to strike up this particular relationship with their potential long-term employer, then, should be advised to be somewhat weary.
  • Is it fair to say that international students are having or will have an easier time with graduate school? Although I dearly wish that this is the case, I wouldn’t bank on it until I can access more specific data on the issue. It might be that these international students are ones able to foot the bill themselves without financial aid (thus, perhaps, exacerbating the inequality standard back in their home countries) – not entirely unlike, say, the case across American schools on the undergraduate level. But of course, I’m just speculating.
  • Are we – the graduate school hopeful – fucked? Well, I don’t know. Honestly, while these numbers are somewhat helpful in letting us know that the market for graduate school spots is getting a bit more competitive, it does not do very much to help us effectively answer that question. In other words, it is more likely that any of the many other factors out there in the world currently marginally screwing us in the butt is more of the main culprit behind our fuckage.

Uhm, yeah. That’s it for now.

On the bright side, those fuckers over at CERN just broke physics.

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