GW pushes expansion of its graduate programs

Enrollment in graduate programs at GW, especially those targeted towards working adults and courses available for completion online, has jumped in recent years.

Since 2002, there has been a 9 percent increase in students taking graduate classes at GW, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

“We want to be a university that is at the cutting edge and has programs that meet the needs in the field,” said Carol Sigelman, associate vice president for graduate studies and academic affairs. “GW has developed programs in order to keep up with the higher demand.”

The increase in students enrolled in graduate programs at GW mirrors a national trend. The number of students earning master’s degrees around the country has nearly doubled since 1980, according to a report in The New York Times.

The Elliott School of International Affairs has seen some of the largest growth. Since 2002, enrollment has doubled, and in 2006 the Elliott School enrolled 1,100 graduate students.

Sigelman pointed to the changing job requirements as the cause of the increase in graduate program enrollments. She said there has been a “degree creep,” in that now in order to be successful in any field, the level of degree needed is getting higher and higher.

The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the School of Medicine and Health Services and the School of Public Health and Health Services have all seen minor growth in their graduate enrollment in the last four years, adding about 100 students each over that time period. The Law School and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development enrolled around 200 more students.

Graduate student enrollment in the School of Business decreased by about 100 students in these four years.

But the greatest source of the growth in graduate enrollments at GW is with online programs. In the fall of 2000, there were fewer than 400 graduate students enrolled in distance education programs. This fall, there are 1,500 graduate students enrolled in these online programs.

There are 16 different graduate programs offered online, including one doctorate program in nursing practice.

“Online programs obviously widen the range of the University,” Sigelman said.

The most rapidly growing graduate program at GW is the College of Professional Studies. The college opened in 2004 with 36 students. Two years later, their enrollments has spiked to 445 students.

“They have some innovative programs,” Sigelman said. “They are doing a lot of distance education programs.”

The College of Professional Studies added three new programs this fall – sustainable landscape design, strategic public relations and molecular biological technology. The school is geared toward adults who are already in the work force.

“Professional adults who want degrees now have the opportunity to get it,” said Roger Whitaker, dean of the College of Professional Studies.

Stuart Heiser, a representative from the Council of Graduate Schools, said students are shelling out the extra thousands of dollars in graduate school tuition because the degree is becoming more and more valuable.

“The job market is becoming increasingly competitive,” he said. “(Graduate) students gain advanced skills desired by big employers.”

GW students said they are in graduate school because many jobs now require that students have higher degrees and because they want that extra edge in the job market.

“I have to have a master’s degree to work in the field of school counseling,” said Marie Hayden, a first- year graduate student in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. “I don’t think that people are necessarily seeking grad school because they want to, but because many careers now require a master’s as the minimum level of education.”

“The job rate isn’t great,” said Matt Saunders, a graduate student in the global MBA Program. “People are looking for that bigger advantage into the job market.”

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