Education

Graduate School Enrollment Up at YSU, KSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Prospective enrollment in graduate programs at Youngstown State University and Kent State University remain on a steady track for the upcoming academic year, administrators say.

New advanced-degree programs in science and technology, business, online education opportunities, along with a growing influx of international students have contributed to the boost in enrollment in the two graduate schools as enrollment in higher education has declined.

“By the time they reach graduate school, students have a specific idea in mind of what they want to do,” says Salvatore Sanders, associate dean of graduate studies at YSU. “Many of our programs match what they are looking for.”

The headcount in the YSU’s graduate school as of fall semester 2014 was down from fall 2013 – 1,147 versus 1,203, according to enrollment data. Still, Sanders says, the number of full-time equivalency students enrolled in the graduate school continues to rise, and the school uses these metrics to measure enrollment.

Since fall semester 2012, that number has steadily risen. That year, YSU’s graduate enrollment of full-time equivalent students stood at 614. In 2013, the number grew to 641 and as of fall 2014, 650 were enrolled. “We’ve shown about a 65% growth here over the last 20 years,” he says.

Applicants for graduate programs for the upcoming fall semester are also up, Sanders says. “The number of accepted and registered students is 67% higher than the same period last year,” he reports.

But, the associate dean clarifies, the deadline for departments to nominate candidates for graduate assistantships was moved up this year. That contributed to the spike. Nevertheless, absent these applications, enrollment is well ahead of last year.

Among the programs commanding interest at the graduate level is the university’s doctor of physical therapy, Sanders says. As of fall 2014, 81 students were enrolled. “Students have to be turned away,” he says, while other graduate programs in the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services, such as the nurse anesthetist and nurse practitioner, attract more students every year.

The ability to take courses online is also drawing new students, Sanders says. The college’s masters program in respiratory therapy, for example, saw substantial growth after it was offered online. “Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is paying some of their workers to take this program,” he notes.

By fall 2016, YSU hopes that two new programs – a master’s of athletic training and master’s in accountancy – will be part of the graduate school portfolio.

“We think both of these will be very marketable,” Sanders says.

The M.S. in accountancy is especially logical since it allows candidates who intend to sit for their CPA licenses to accrue more hours before taking the exams, says Betty Jo Licata, dean of the Williamson College of Business Administration.

“People need to have 150 hours before they can sit for their CPA exams,” she explains. “So they have to acquire additional hours. This is an opportunity to earn a graduate degree in the process.”

The proposed program requires approval from the Ohio Board of Regents and YSU trustees before it can be implemented. “We’re hoping to start it next summer,” Licata says.

Another draw to graduate education at the business school is the newly redesigned master in business administration program. “It took a really big jump this year,” she reports.

As an example, Licata notes that 140 were enrolled as of fall 2014. By the spring semester, that number had jumped to 172. “We’ve grown more than 40% in the MBA program,” she says.

The redesigned program consists of two-hour courses that run eight weeks in the 39-hour program, Licata says. “They can complete more courses in one semester. Most want to move through in the most efficient manner possible.”

The majority of classes are held evenings because most enrolled in the MBA program are managing work and academic schedules, Licata says. A recently launched online MBA presence is also helping to build enrollment because of the flexibility it allows working professionals.

Patrick Bateman, director of the Williamson MBA program, says students are responding well to the new program. “We were up 20% in the fall and another 20% in the spring,” he reports.

Under the old system, MBA candidates could earn three credits per course over 16 weeks, Bateman says. The new system better provides students with practical knowledge that they can apply immediately to the workplace. “Most are going two nights a week,” he says. “They can earn the degree more quickly.”

Admission protocols have been changed to take into consideration an applicant’s professional experience and undergraduate grade point average, Bateman notes. “We’re liking the new mix of students,” he comments.

For example, if a prospective MBA candidate has more than five years of work experience, and an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or better, then the business school is willing to waive entrance tests such as the Graduate Record Exam or the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT.

And, prospective students with a GPA of 3.5 or better are also eligible for scholarships that range between $500 and $1,000 per semester for up to six semesters. “It tends to bring really top people into the program,” Bateman says. “We’re attracting a lot more with work experience.”

Other factors, such as new programs in digital science, information technology, and the rise in the number of international student are driving enrollment figures at Kent State University.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the international graduate population over the years,” observes Mary Ann Stephens, KSU dean of graduate studies.

The fall 2014 headcount in KSU’s graduate school stood at 6,149 students, up nearly 2% from fall 2013, according to university data. Full-time equivalency was even higher, up 5.4% for the same periods.

“We’ve seen about a 20% increase over the last five years,” Stephens says. The key is to continue developing innovative programs that meet the needs of the professional marketplace.

“There’s a trend growing in digital-data courses,” Stephens says, pointing to a new graduate-level degree in digital sciences the university launched last year. Enrollment in that program jumped 173% from the fall of 2013 to fall 2014.

“We’re getting 600 to 700 applicants a year for just a few slots,” she says. “This is hugely popular with international students.”

Other graduate programs that have remained steady or are growing include MBAs, clinical psychology and architecture.

Programs such as graduate degrees in education, on the other hand, have taken a hit over the last few years because advanced degrees in education are no longer required in the public schools for teachers and principals to rise through the system, Stephens says.

“Districts aren’t paying for their teachers to go to school,” she relates, “and they’re not coming back for masters degrees in the numbers that they once were.”

The more innovative a programs is, Stephens says, the better chances a university has of attracting new students.

“Innovation fosters more innovation,” she says. “And, in a time of declining enrollments, we’re bucking the trend. It’s rewarding to see the new programs meeting market demand.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.