Number of graduate students reaches new high

For months, universities, employers and even President Barack Obama have been telling students and employees that now is a great time to enter graduate school, and from the 13 percent surge in graduate applications this year, it appears people are listening.

GW currently has 14,000 students enrolled in its graduate programs – the largest graduate population the school has ever seen – but some graduates say they feel disconnected from the student body.

At the University, the average age for a master’s candidate is 30, and 35 for a doctoral candidate, Director of the Office of Institutional Research and Planning Joachim Knop said. That age range puts graduates about a decade older than the average undergraduate, the population to which GW devotes a majority of energy and programs.

“Graduate students, living a different lifestyle and generally at a different stage in their life, have specific needs from a university,” said Dakotah Smith, a graduate student senator in the Student Association.

Despite representation in the SA, graduate students are not well-connected, Smith said. Typically, graduate students work full or part time and do not join student organizations, Greek-letter organizations or live on campus.

“A lot of graduate students are disconnected from each other,” Smith said. “[The] general attitude is that graduate students tend to stick to their programs.”

Many graduate students stick to academics because they are short on free time – full-time students take an average of 22 credits a semester, Knop said.

Of the roughly 14,000 graduate students enrolled in fall 2009 programs, Knop said only 750 received an undergraduate degree from GW, meaning few are already familiar with the University, its programs and its social scene.

In an attempt to bring graduate students closer together, Smith has worked closely with Bridgette Behling, assistant director of graduate life, to promote networking between graduate students. Such networks will enable students to create their own events, not merely wait for an e-mail from the Office of Graduate Life.

Communicating graduate social events is difficult “via e-mail, [because there are] so many e-mails, we don’t read them… and miss so many things that are potentially interesting,” Smith said.

Jamie Baker, a graduate student and chairman of the SA’s rules committee, and Skye Mathieson, a graduate student and vice president for graduate policy in the SA, said they are planning a forum for graduate issues in January.

They hope to attract graduate students from across the University as well as University President Steven Knapp.

Smith hopes the forum will spread a message to the University, “This is us, listen to us.”

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