For Rachel Serrano, a senior recreation and tourism management major, the choice of going to graduate school wasn’t just about increasing her education, but job security. Hers is a concern many graduates currently share.
‘I’m afraid that if I graduate now and I’m out of school I’m not going to be able to find a job,’ Serrano said. ‘My only choice is to go to grad school and continue my education; so I’ll have better luck when I’m out of grad school to find a job.’
The trends in graduate and first-professional enrollment released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that Serrano is not alone in her decision to redirect focus from the job market to additional education.
Enrollment in graduate programs increased from 1.3 to 2.2 million between 1976 and 2006. Increases in graduate and first-professional enrollment will continue with graduate enrollment exceeding 2.6 million and first-professional enrollment reaching 418, 000 by 2017, according to the projected trends from NCES.
Joyce Feucht-Haviar, dean of the Tseng College, said that in a downturned economy, students finishing their undergraduate degree are more open to the idea of graduate school.
‘A lot more people say, ‘I’ve got my baccalaureate and I was thinking of waiting maybe to consider graduate school later but there are no jobs,” Haviar said. ”I might as well move straight ahead, take another year, wait for the economy to come back and when I go out into the marketplace, I’ll be even better prepared.’
From what Serrano has recognized among her colleagues, the job market has dictated some of their grad school choices.
‘People who have a B.A. or B.S. that are going out into the job field are having bad luck finding jobs in their field,’ Serrano said. ‘Even if they do find jobs, they are not to their standard.’
Dr. Mack Johnson, associate vice president for Graduate Studies, Research and International Programs, said the department has seen a moderate increase in graduate applications.
‘The big downturn in the economy occurred Fall semester ’08,’ said Johnson. ‘We had a six or seven percent increase in applications.’
Johnson added that although not all the data is in, there is likely to be an eight to nine percent increase in the department’s applications for Fall 2009.
In regards to the increase, Johnson said, ‘The real question is whether the driver is the economy.’
Haviar acknowledged that long before the economic downturn there has been a steady growth in demand for the baccalaureate and also for the masters and professional doctorate.
‘If you really want to move to some of the higher ranks there are cut off points where they start asking for the baccalaureate or start asking for the masters,’ said Haviar, who added that people who have held a job for five to 20 years with whatever degree they had, might want to brush up their skills in the off chance they may find themselves reentering the job market.
She added, ‘People get worried that ‘If I did lose my job, how would I be competitive against all these other people who do have their baccalaureate, who do have their masters in my field.’
Even though there has been an increase in interest in the graduate programs offered by the department, the requirements to apply will remain the same, said Johnson.
And Haviar sees the lackluster job market as an opportunity for students to increase their knowledge in their career field.
Overall GPA, background knowledge in desired area of study and performance on aptitude tests remains the major deciding factors for graduate school acceptance.
‘They may have a little less practical experience,’ she said. ‘But I think the general awareness is that they will be more competitive.’