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First-time enrollment in graduate programs increased by 2.5 percent between fall 2018 and fall 2019 even while the number of applications to graduate programs dipped slightly, by 0.6 percent, according to a new survey conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board.

The survey found notable increases in first-time graduate enrollment among members of racial minority groups. First-time graduate enrollment increased by 5.7 percent among Hispanic/Latinx students, 5.5 percent among Black/African American students, 5.3 percent among Asian students and 3.5 percent among American Indian/Alaska Native students. First-time enrollments declined by 3 percent among Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.

Collectively, students from underrepresented minority groups -- American Indian/Alaska Native, Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander and Hispanic/Latinx -- accounted for about a quarter (24.8 percent) of all U.S. citizens and permanent resident students newly enrolled in graduate education, up from 24.1 percent the year before. The report on the survey notes however that students from these groups "remain particularly underrepresented in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For example, only 4.5 percent of U.S. citizen and permanent resident students enrolled for the first time in physical and earth sciences and 5.8 percent in engineering were Black/African American students."

2020 Enrollment Trending Down

Undergraduate enrollment is tracking 4 percent lower this year than it was last fall, according to preliminary indicators released yesterday. Gains measured earlier in graduate student enrollment also appeared to be slipping.

Read the full story here.

The survey results reflect a pre-pandemic enrollment landscape.

“We don’t have the data on fall 2020, but we are particularly concerned about how the current pandemic might have disproportional impact on the pipeline into graduate schools for students of color,” said Hironao Okahana, the vice president for research and knowledge development at the Council of Graduate Schools.

Okahana said the council will be tracking this, as well as the effects of the pandemic on international student graduate enrollments. The survey found that first-time international graduate enrollments began rebounding last fall, growing by 3.8 percent between fall 2018 and fall 2019 following two years of declines. International students accounted for 20 percent of all newly enrolled graduate students and more than half of all first-time students in mathematics and computer science (54.4 percent) and engineering (50.1 percent) programs.

The survey also found that first-time enrollment increases were highest at research-intensive doctoral institutions (+3.2 percent for "very high research" doctoral universities and +3 percent for "high research" doctoral universities). First-time graduate enrollments increased by 0.7 percent at master’s-level institutions and declined by 0.1 percent at doctoral/professional universities.

First-time doctoral enrollment increased by 8.2 percent between fall 2018 and fall 2019, while first-time master’s-level enrollment increased by 1.3 percent. Students studying toward a master’s degree or graduate certificate accounted for the vast majority (82.4 percent) of all first-time graduate students in fall 2019.

First-time enrollment in mathematics and computer science programs increased by 5.7 percent between fall 2018 and fall 2019, reflecting continued growth in a field in which graduate enrollment has grown by an average of 11.6 percent per year over the last 10 years. Other fields with year-over-year increases in first-time graduate enrollment include engineering (+5 percent), health sciences (+3.5 percent), social and behavioral sciences (+2.2 percent), biological and agricultural sciences (+1.9 percent), business (+1.6 percent), and education (+0.4 percent). First-time graduate enrollments declined in physical and earth sciences (-2.5 percent), arts and humanities (-2 percent), and public administration and services (-0.4 percent).

The total number of doctoral and master’s degrees awarded by the institutions participating in the survey increased by 3.8 and 0.8 percent, respectively, between 2017-18 and 2018-19, while the number of graduate-level certificates awarded increased by 19.6 percent. The largest share of certificates were awarded in education, business and health sciences.

Women made up more than half of all first-time graduate students at the master's and graduate certificate (60.1 percent) and doctoral levels (54.7 percent). Men, however, made up the majority of first-time students enrolling in engineering (71.2 percent), mathematics and computer sciences (65.4 percent), physical and earth sciences (58.5 percent), and business (52.9 percent) programs.

The survey was sent to 770 colleges in November 2019. A total of 561 responded, reflecting a response rate of 72.9 percent.

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