Enrollment in higher education tends to increase

A November 2021 report from the Council of Graduate Schools found that applications for graduate school admissions increased 7.3% year-over-year in fall 2020, a growth rate that far exceeds the average growth of 2.5% year-on-year over the previous 10. years.

Enrollment among students of color grew the most – among Latinx students, there was a 20.4% year-over-year increase; among black or African American students, a 16% increase; and among Native American and Alaska Native students, an increase of 8.8%. Across all institutions, according to the report, business, biological and agricultural sciences, and health sciences saw the largest increases, while engineering fields saw the largest declines in enrollment.

Much of these declines align with economic trends during the pandemic: As the number of COVID-19 cases soared, hospitals and labs struggled to meet the high demand for their services. In turn, many institutions and companies offered large cash incentives to attract new employees. And Hispanic, Black, and Indigenous students have been disproportionately impacted not only by COVID-19 as a health crisis, but also economically, as businesses shut down during the pandemic.

life changes

“People have stopped to think about what people want to do with their lives and what makes sense,” says Dr. Janet C. Rutledge, vice provost and dean of the University of Maryland Graduate School. , Baltimore County, a minority-serving institution known for its work in training STEM graduates of color. “There were a lot of people at the last minute who decided to go to school, and school may be the most attractive option when work and other things are not going well. .”

Program leaders are getting creative with online recruiting, including hosting Zoom performance days with breakout sessions — and it’s actually proven hugely beneficial, Rutledge says, because students who don’t not physically live in the state can “see” the campus and interact with current and former faculty and students in a virtual environment.

Rutledge says she has seen a surge in 2021 in the number of people returning to earn teaching certificates and additional degrees in education, bucking a trend that has shown a decline in the number of people graduating nationwide “for years”. Looking at applications for fall 2022, Rutledge thinks the trend will continue, an encouraging observation given the prevalence of talk of an impending teacher shortage.

“It’s a really nice uptick to see,” says Rutledge, adding that “seeing this turnaround during the pandemic” is particularly positive, given recent reports that one in four teachers plan to quit after the school year in Classes.

In addition to education, public policy and community leadership programs have also seen renewed interest. And while international enrollment dropped significantly at graduate schools nationwide in fall 2020 – the number of first-time international students “decreased significantly,” from 20% in fall 2019 to 12.6% in fall 2020 – largely due to pandemic travel restrictions. Rutledge says there has been an increase in the number of international students returning to UMBC in the fall of 2021.

She attributes some of that to going virtual. While most programs at UMBC and institutions across the country have returned to in-person instruction, Rutledge says the university has added several new hybrid programs and is offering more flexible options, even within the hybrid structure, which allow students to take a greater part of their courses remotely.

“We had a handful of programs and a bunch of other [departments] who was talking about it [pre-pandemic], and now we have programs that were never talked about that are starting to spring up” and are looking at hybrid or fully online programs, Rutledge says. “The biggest change is in the faculty that [now] see that online is not of lesser quality” after being forced to put everything online in early 2020.

UMBC — which enrolls many master’s students from nearby engineering powerhouses like Northrop Grumman or those in government positions in the region — sees many benefits of online education. Even though students may be geographically close to the school due to work, “many say it’s easier to take the course online because it doesn’t mean leaving work,” explains Rutledge. “It’s much more convenient for their lifestyle.”

Online is not best for everyone

But Dr. Ashagre Yigletu, dean of the Graduate School at Southern University and the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Louisiana, says for some students, online learning still poses many challenges.

While many of the 850 graduate students across the South were excited about the prospect of online learning – Louisiana has been one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic, and it continues to have one of the highest rates. vaccination rates – Yigletu says many students have suffered.

“They wanted to be home, to be safe for themselves, their parents, the elderly at home,” he says, noting that many predominantly black students at HBCUs come from households that have been even more affected. than the state as a whole by the COVID -19 crisis. But for many students enrolled in graduate programs at Southern, Yigletu says GPAs have plummeted.

When you consider that many Southern students were eligible for the Pell Scholarship as undergraduates, in-person learning really is the best, he continues.

“[Our] students really earn more through person-to-person learning, as opposed to online learning,” says Yigletu. “It’s not a cultural issue; you have to dig into the economic status of their parents. These are students from communities in economic difficulty. …Those in underserved communities prefer more personal environments, because we can explain more, we can reach further, they can meet the professors during their office hours.

And there are the well-documented disparities in access to technology and other resources that also impact students from economically challenged communities – “This is a problem that has been created because of the income inequality,” he says.

On top of that, many students have lost their jobs during the pandemic, which Yigletu says has impacted their ability to pay for tuition. And since many employers did not allow additional staff on-site, this prevented students from participating in experiential learning opportunities that would normally enhance their classroom learning.

Overall, enrollment in Southern graduate programs has increased in line with national trends, and Yingletu says program-by-program enrollment is also in line with national trends. Although international student enrollment has yet to return to pre-pandemic numbers as travel restrictions remain in place and some students face difficulty obtaining visas, he points to one exception: India has sent more more students than ever at Southern’s graduate school.

Students and mental health

But Yigletu says registration is one thing. Still, he remains concerned about the mental health of students, who are still struggling with the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

Rutledge says the same is true at UMBC.

“We face a big challenge, and that is the isolation of students and how that affects mental health,” she says. “We’re talking about the students who have thrived online, but there are also students who aren’t thriving, who miss the community they had when they were in person and seeing people and interacting with people. .”

Southern’s graduate student association responded by hosting more on-campus events and workshops to give students the opportunity to interact with one another.

Overall, Rutledge says she’s encouraged by “how this pandemic has just transformed the way we do things and really forced us to really think about what we were doing and what we were trying to accomplish and the best way to do it”.

“In some ways, I think this could be a very useful time that we’ve been forced to go through, but we have an opportunity to rethink” how higher education as a whole serves students, she says. “We don’t want to throw away everything we were doing, but normality wasn’t working for a group” of students and faculty members.

This article originally appeared in the March 17, 2022 edition of Miscellaneous.

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