Recent years reflect rising numbers in graduate school enrollment, and trends say that in times of economic recession, those figures reach a high.
Enrollment in graduate school nationwide has grown at a consistent 3 percent average annually, while part-time enrollment has increased by a solid 1 percent, the Council of Graduate School recently reported.
“Lots of people are going to look into graduate school in a recession environment,” said Peter Dorhout, vice provost for CSU’s graduate school program. “They’re going to ask ‘How can I improve myself and get one step ahead of my competition?'”
Robert Kling, coordinator of graduate studies in the Economics department, said that during recessions, a pattern of increased graduate school applications becomes clear, as job options are “not so good.”
“At CSU it happened during the 1990 to ’91 recession and again during the 2001 recession,” Kling said.
Enrollment numbers totaled 3,452 in the 1999 to 2000 school year, but topped off near 600 more students by 2003. In later years, the number would even out to about 3,600 to 3,700 students per year.
Dorhout and Kling said they anticipate the numbers will continue to rise for the 2009 to 2010 school year.
However, because of the active recruiting programs the graduate program maintains, Dorhout acknowledged that it’s hard to credit the current increases in enrollment entirely to the recession.
But one thing is true, Kling said. As enrollment continues to increase, the competitiveness also increases.
“Since the recession induces thousands more people to apply to grad school, grad programs will be getting more applicants and better applicants than usual,” he said, explaining that an average student’s chances of getting into his or her preferred school or obtaining funding on research or teaching assistantships are lower than normal.
According to Kling, the benefits of a graduate education will extend over many decades, regardless of whether the nation falls into an economic down spiral again. However, he said the “opportunity costs” of going to graduate school drop in times of a hurting market outlook.
“In a good economy, going to grad school likely involves sacrificing a good job with good pay. In a recession, you might not get a job at all or not one that pays well, so your sacrifice from continuing in or going back to school is lower. If that cost is lower but the benefits are still high, more people will choose grad school as a sensible option,” he said.
Although the residential student population, or CSU undergraduates, has flattened out during the past five years, an increase in distance learning — online courses and study abroad — has affected the overall number of CSU applicants significantly.
According to Dorhout, overall applicants are up 10 percent compared to this time last year, and more increases are expected to be seen for next year.
Even with the increases, Dorhout acknowledges that graduate school is not for everyone.
“Graduate school should not be the default for anyone. You need to ask what is it you want to be doing with your career,” Dorhout said. “Talk to your advisors, talk to your faculty mentors and decide to go to grad school if it’s something that you want to accomplish.”
Josh Spare, a senior technical journalism major, said he feels people are becoming more educated, which makes the job market more competitive.
Although he said his own thoughts on attending graduate school have been reoccurring due to the incurred benefits, Spare is currently not looking into graduate school but said he continues to consider it an option.
“I have thought about graduate school, considering that jobs in my field of study are numbered as of right now,” he said.
Spare explained that he “(feels) lucky” to have already secured a job with a video production company in January, which will potentially result in full-time employment after he graduates from CSU.
“If I wasn’t certain about a job right after college, I would definitely consider staying in college for grad school and working on the side in hopes that the market would be better in a couple years.”
Kling said the decision to apply for graduate school must depend on the benefits for the individual, and students should weigh whether a job already available is an alternative.
Attending, he said, also depends on how the person values the future benefits of graduate education, which “may allow a different career path, higher income, and/or different lifestyles.”
“Right now, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons are the highest they have been in many years,” he said, explaining that now might be the time “to consider options you might not have considered before.”
Staff writer Justyna Tomtas can be reached at email@example.com.