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Graduate Enrollments Are Up, but Uneven

Graduate Enrollments Are Up, but Uneven
September 16, 2008

Total graduate enrollments in the United States are up 3 percent, according to a study being released today by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The 3 percent increase is a fairly steady figure; it is the average annual increase over the last 10 years, although if past economic downturns are any indication, enrollments may grow more over the next year, with new college graduates facing tighter job markets. But even as total graduate enrollments are going up around the expected rate, the increases vary by demographic group and field of study.

Health sciences and engineering enrollments saw the largest increases (9 percent and 5 percent, respectively), while humanities enrollments were flat and business and education enrollments were each down by 1 percent. Enrollments of non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents outpaced U.S. enrollments (up 7 percent vs. up 3 percent).

Enrollments of men grew at slightly higher rates than those for women (4 percent vs. 3 percent), but women continue to dominate graduate enrollments, making up 59 percent of all graduate students and 66 percent at master's level institutions.

Among U.S. citizens, gains were larger for non-white students than for white students, continuing a diversification of graduate enrollments that has been going on for some time. Gains were the largest for black and Native American students -- and some of those gains were in fields in which enrollment for those groups has historically been low. At the same time, the percentage increases are applied to an overall graduate student body that remains largely white.

Increases in Graduate Enrollments by Race and Ethnicity, U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents

Group % of All Graduate Enrollments, Fall 2007 % Change, 2006-7 Average Annual % Change, 2002-7 Average Annual % Change, 1997-2007
American Indian 1% 9% 7% 6%
African American 13% 8% 9% 8%
Asian American 6% 4% 4% 4%
Latino 8% 3% 5% 7%
White 72% 2% 2% 1%

The gains for black students were even larger on a percentage basis in some fields: 19 percent in the health sciences, 11 percent in public administration. While the gains in engineering (6 percent) and biological sciences (7 percent) were smaller than others for the year, they were significantly larger than average annual gains for black students in the last 10 years.

In terms of disciplines and citizenship status, health sciences are the only field where enrollments of U.S. citizens are outpacing those of foreign students.

Trends in Graduate Enrollments by Discipline and Citizenship Status

Discipline % Change for U.S. Citizens, 2006-7 % Change for Foreign Students, 2006-7 Average Annual % Change for U.S. Citizens, 1997-2007 Average Annual % Change for Foreign Students, 1997-2007
Biological sciences +1% +2% +1% +3%
Business -2% +3% +0% +2%
Education -1% +4% +1% +6%
Engineering +2% +7% +1% +5%
Health sciences +9% +4% +4% +6%
Humanities and arts +0% +2% +0% +2%
Physical sciences +0% +6% +1% +4%
Public administration and services +4% +8% +1% +7%
Social sciences +1% +2% +1% +3%

Beyond enrollments, a key indicator for graduate education is the application total. Overall, last year saw an 8 percent increase in applications, significantly above the average gain for recent years (1 percent). As with other data, the increases aren't universal and vary by discipline.

Trends in Graduate Applications by Discipline

Discipline % Change 2006-7 Average Annual % Change, 2002-7 Average Annual % Change, 1997-2007
Biological sciences +13% +1% +2%
Business +9% -3% +0%
Education +1% +2% +2%
Engineering +10% -4% +4%
Health sciences +9% +5% +3%
Humanities and arts +7% +5% +3%
Physical sciences +9% +0% +4%
Public administration and services +1% +2% +0%
Social sciences +1% +3% +2%
Total +8% +1% +3%

 

 

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