Graduate Students

Applications to U.S. Graduate Schools Increase, but New Enrollments Drop

September 28, 2012

Applications to graduate-school programs in the United States increased by 4 percent from the fall of 2010 to the fall of 2011, but first-time enrollments fell by almost 2 percent during that time, according to a report being released on Friday by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The report, which is based on an annual survey in which 655 institutions responded, shows that total graduate-school enrollments remained ahead of where they were a decade ago, increasing by 3 percent from 2001 to 2011, the latest year available. However, from 2010 to 2011 there was a 2-percent drop in first-time enrollments in master's and certificate-level programs, while Ph.D. programs enrolled 0.5 percent more new students.

Among new enrollees in graduate programs in the fall of 2011, 62 percent were at public institutions and 58 percent were women. The proportion of international students among new enrollments in the fall of 2011 was 17 percent, up from 16 percent in 2010.

New enrollments of women decreased from 2010 to 2011 by 2 percent, and new enrollments of men fell by 1 percent. The number of new white students dropped by 3 percent. Black students were the only group of any race that saw a gain, an increase of 4 percent, in first-time enrollment.

Despite the overall decline in new enrollments, interest in pursuing graduate degrees continues to grow, said Debra W. Stewart, the council's president. Ms. Stewart attributed the enrollment declines to departments' cutting back on the number of available slots for students, growing student debt among undergraduates, and shrinking state appropriations for graduate programs at public institutions. Ms. Stewart said she also feared that the elimination of the federal loan subsidy for graduate students in July will worsen this year's enrollment numbers.

"It's a matter of serious concern that we are losing enrollment almost across the board for U.S. students," Ms. Stewart said. "It's time we reaffirm our commitment to graduate education and avoid accelerating these trends."