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The Minnesota Daily

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University of Minnesota lags behind nation in grad enrollment

While applications to the University have increased, enrollment has decreased by almost 6.5 percent.

National graduate and professional student enrollment rates have soared in recent years, but the University of Minnesota is bucking that trend.

While enrollment nationwide increased 16 percent between 2005 and 2010, across the University’s five campuses it decreased more than 6 percent  from 2006 to 2012.

At the same time, the number of graduate program applications at the University hit more than 15,000 in 2010 and has continued to rise.

In 2012-13, the University had almost 17,000 graduate school applications, up 17 percent from four years ago.

Belinda Cheung, assistant vice provost of the Graduate School, said the disparity between applications and enrollment is to be expected.

“Enrollment trends seem to lag a bit in terms of the application trend,” she said. “Any change you see in the application trend is not going to reflect right away.”

More than half of the applicants in 2012 were international students, which Graduate Admissions Departmental Director Dean Tsantir said is unique from previous years but hasn’t been reflected in enrollment.

Though international student applications have outpaced those of U.S. students, international students made up less than a fifth of enrolled graduate and professional students in spring 2013, much as in past years.

Tsantir said graduate and professional programs choose independently how many applicants to admit.

“It is really college-by-college,” he said. “It’s not like undergrad, where you have a central decision maker or an office that is working with the departments … it’s more decentralized.”

Though the University’s overall graduate enrollment has decreased, some programs have still had enrollment increases.

Nursing and health sciences, for example, have had the largest increase in the last six years, according to the 2012 University Plan, Performance and Accountability Report.

Many factors can impact the number of students admitted to graduate programs, Tsantir said, including funding for research grants, assistantships and fellowships.

Cheung said funds for such aid have been increasingly difficult to come by in recent years, especially for Ph.D. students, causing some faculty members to become more selective when considering applications.

“[Faculty] only want to admit as many as they know they can provide financial support,” she said. “So when faculty are having a hard time securing or renewing grant applications, they are much less likely to accept more [Ph.D. applicants].”

Tsantir said some programs at the University have a policy of funding all admitted graduate or professional students.

Andrew McNally, incoming president of the University’s Council of Graduate Students, said all of his doctoral candidate peers in American Studies have assistantships. Compensation packages may play a large role in students’ decisions to enroll, he said.

Other factors in deciding the number of graduate or professional students to admit include the number of available advisers and physical space in classrooms, Tsantir said.

“There may be some [programs] that want to keep their incoming students the same,” he said. “But there might be others where, say they get a new building, so they can admit more students.”

But by the time the University has more space, faculty members or funding, the tide for graduate enrollment may have already changed.

“It’s not as simple as saying across the board that the master’s is the new bachelor’s [degree],” Tsantir said. “Especially with MOOCs development and creative bridge programs, where you can do a master’s and a bachelor’s in five years.”

Some of the University’s peer institutions have reported graduate and professional applications have started to decline or level out, Cheung said.

“We are still seeing [applications] go up,” she said. “But we are not seeing the double-digit increase that we have been seeing the last few years.”

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