Slow economy prompts increase in graduate school applications

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm

For some colleges and universities, a slow economy means an increase in business.
When the job market is tight, undergraduates go directly on to graduate school, those in the workforce return to school for graduate degrees in order to gain an edge in the market and adults who have not received their bachelor’s degrees return to college to do so.
At Marquette University, applications to graduate school programs are up 25% from last year, said Anne Deahl, associate vice president for enrollment management at Marquette. The majority of applicants are members of the workforce returning for advanced degrees, Deahl said.
"People see advanced education as a way to keep their jobs," Deahl said. "Having an MBA will set them apart from others competing with them for positions."
The most popular college programs, for both undergraduate and graduate students, are those which prepare students for fields with the most pressing need for workers such as nursing and education, said Amy Dobson, director of enrollment for Mount Mary College. Those who are in the workforce are evaluating their current careers and in some cases returning to school to get degrees in fields where there are more job opportunities, said Marci Ocker, director of the Center for Educational and Professional Enrollment at Mount Mary.
The influx of adult working students and career changers has caused higher education institutions to create programs to accommodate them. Marquette offers about 16 night and weekend programs specifically for employed adults working on bachelor’s degrees. Mount Mary offers 15 evening programs for working adults.
"We’re sending a message to students that you can personalize your school schedule to meet your needs," Ocker said. "That’s important to adult students."
Additionally, schools are offering graduate programs for adults who have bachelor’s degrees but are changing careers. Marquette’s College of Nursing features a Master of Science in Nursing degree for non-nursing majors who now want to enter the nursing field. The university also offers a masters degree in computing for students with various undergraduate degrees.
"We’re evaluating which areas in the job market are hot and what kind of programs we can offer students who want to work in those areas," Deahl said.
Students returning to school are not doing so haphazardly. Working adults need flexible programs that will fit their schedules, and they are doing their homework to find the best schools for them, Ocker said.
"People are extremely motivated to find the best programs, and they are doing good comparison shopping," Ocker said.
And while employer tuition reimbursements are coming in at lower levels than in past years, companies still are willing to pay for their employees’ education if there is potential that the education will bring a direct positive impact to business, Ocker said.
Although an economic downturn can boost college enrollments, private colleges are faced with the challenge of vigorously promoting the value of private school education versus the costs in a time when money is tight for many families, Deahl said.
"The impact of the costs can be a major concern for families when the economy is slow," Deahl said. "Especially in these times it is vitally important that private colleges continue to stress the value of private education."

July 5, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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