Admissions see decline in graduate enrollment

Gannon University’s overall enrollment in graduate programs is on the decline.

In statistics released this semester, 2012 graduate enrollment sits at 1,000, down 13 percent from 2011’s total of 1,151 students. Gannon’s graduate programs recorded its highest enrollment in 2007 with 1,405 students, but the total number has decreased by an average of 6 percent annually since then.

However, Gannon’s graduate programs have no reason to stress over the declining figures, said Kara Morgan, director of graduate admissions. This dip in graduate school enrollment is occurring from coast to coast.

“Other schools, as far as I can tell, are experiencing much of the same, either stagnant or possible declines,” Morgan said.

In September, the Chronicle of Higher Education printed a survey of 655 institutions across the country. Applications to graduate programs were up 4 percent between 2010 and 2011 but first-time enrollments dropped 2 percent in that timeframe.

Some of Gannon’s 21 master’s-level programs are doing better than others.

“A lot of it depends on which program you’re talking about,” Morgan said. “Some of them are doing fantastic; some of them are a little bit slower.”

Gannon’s health science programs are swimming with their heads full above water, but their enrollment numbers are capped at a maximum quota. The doctor of physical therapy program enrolls 42 students a year, and the physician assistant and occupational therapy programs have no vacancies either.

“Although there’s an interest, we don’t have the opportunity to increase any more [enrollment] with those programs,” Morgan said.

Morgan admitted the economy might be to blame for the graduate enrollment decline. She pointed to companies that no longer pay for their employees to attend graduate school, as well as the federal government’s cutting of subsidies for graduate student loans.

Despite the numbers, Morgan defended the graduate degree; its value is worth the time spent to achieve it.

“There’s always value in a master’s degree,” Morgan said. “It gives you just one little extra that other people might not have. That can give you an opportunity for promotion or advancement, or maybe even put you ahead of the group when someone’s looking at your resume.”

Bobby Johns, a first-year student in the master’s of business administration program, said he chose to continue his education at Gannon because he liked the faculty and for him, it’s easier to stay put rather than pick up and start new somewhere else. He said deciding to pursue a master’s degree depends on what you want to do, as well as which field you’re in.

“Most people need industry first, then go back to grad school later,” Johns said. “But really, it’s different for everybody.”

Gannon continues to adapt its graduate programs to make them more accessible to its student market. The university just announced the addition of a new doctor of nursing degree as well as a master of science in sport and exercise science, which will both begin in fall 2013.

Prospective students can also enroll in three online graduate-level programs: the MBA, Master’s of Public Administration and a Master’s of Science in Engineering Management.

“The times are changing, and we constantly change with that, too,” Morgan said.

Gannon’s office of graduate admissions has no plans to overhaul its marketing strategy, either. Its college visits and open houses are always successful, Morgan said. Another graduate open house is scheduled for Nov. 15.

“We’ll continue to do those and get the word out about all of the programs we have,” she said.

Part of the challenge of marketing is that students searching for a graduate program are quite different from prospective students who are looking at colleges for the first time.

“It’s a completely different market,” Morgan said. “Graduate students can be part-time and maybe they work in Erie full time. They take one class at a time, they have families at home, they have obligations.”

Johns suggested his perfect enrollment plan: Gannon can improve its graduate numbers by focusing its marketing efforts on its undergraduate population. Often current students who are thinking about a master’s degree view Gannon as their last resort, nothing more, Johns said.

“Students don’t see Gannon as prestigious,” Johns said. “It doesn’t get the due it deserves.”



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