Graduate programs continue to grow

Graduate student enrollment at the University increased by 2.3 percent last year, as graduate programs continue to expand across the institution.

The enrollment boost at GW comes on the heels of an only 0.1-percent increase between 2008 and 2009, significantly less than the 5.5-percent increase nationally at the time.

A September report by the Council of Graduate Schools found that graduate enrollment shifted up 1.1 percent nationally in the last year, a slowdown an author of the study attributed to economic hardship across the country.

From 2005 to 2011, the University saw a 144-percent increase in applications, Assistant Provost for Graduate Enrollment Management Kristin Williams said. Enrollment in GW’s graduate programs – including the law and medical schools – hit 14,312 students last fall.

“The heightened visibility and reputation of the University’s graduate programs and research have certainly helped, and the schools have continued to develop new programs to meet students’ professional needs,” she said.

The University’s efforts to keep its sticker price down and provide financial aid also contributed to the enrollment boost, despite the national dip, Williams said.

“For the past 20 years, GW’s graduate tuition rate has remained below the national average for private institutions,” Williams said. “The University also provides a wide range of assistantships and fellowships.”

Funding for graduate financial aid increased by $2 million between 2010 and 2011, Williams said. Data for this fall’s enrollment is not yet available nationally.

Though overall graduate enrollment has increased, first-time graduate students saw a 1.1-percent decrease nationally between fall 2009 and fall 2010, the most recent data available, according to the same study. The dip in national first-time enrollment is the first since 2003.

The information compiled by the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning does not distinguish between first-time and returning graduate students.

Financial strain was one of the key reasons for the national decline in first-time enrollment, Nathan Bell, the study’s author and the director of research and policy analysis at the Council of Graduate Schools, said. Bell is also a student at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at GW.

“I believe the national first-time graduate enrollment trends are indeed tied to economic trends,” he said. “The recession was likely at the root of these declines.”

Bell said students who are self- or employer-funded find it difficult to obtain financial support and rely on economic stability while obtaining their degrees.

These declines “reflect the hesitancy of prospective students to take on debt or to leave jobs for graduate school and an uncertain future [and] the hesitancy of employers to pay for graduate school for employees,” Bell said.

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