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UA News
As economy slumps, grad school applications skyrocket

By Stephanie Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 12, 2002

Slumped economy and need for higher education big factors

Faced with a weak economy and a competitive job market, students are turning to graduate school as an alternative creating a 21 percent increase of applicants to UA's graduate programs.

Enrollment in graduate programs has increased by more than 360 students in the past year, to 7,358, excluding those enrolled in professional degree programs like law. Most of the increase has been in the areas of electrical and computer engineering, information resources and library science and larger numbers of graduate students who are not seeking degrees.

"Overall, we see the entrance to grad schools go up when the economy is going down," said Gary Pivo, dean of the Graduate College.

Concerns from Sept. 11 have drawn students to the public health and epidemiology programs, Pivo said. New and improved programs, such as the American Indian Studies doctoral program also experienced an increase in applicants.

Other factors, such as an increase in recruitment efforts, have helped draw students into areas such as pharmaceutical sciences, said Belinda Badger, administrative associate of graduate pharmacy and practice.

Classroom capacity, lab space, faculty supervision and financial support all limit the number of students accepted to the programs.

But with a higher number of applications between this year and last, graduate admissions employees are being more selective about whom they admit.

Colleges only accept the number of students they feel can be placed into the field when they are done with school, Pivo said.

The College of Medicine accepts 100 applicants each year, but is discussing the possibility of expanding to 110, said Christopher A. Leadem, senior associate dean for the admissions of student affairs at the College of Medicine. For the past three years, the College of Medicine received 450 applicants to the program each year. Leadem expects more applications this year.

"As things go sour in the economy, people come back to medicine and law," Leadem said.

Despite the increase in UA graduate school enrollment, the university loses about 700 of its top scholars and minority students admitted every year to other universities and programs.

There are a variety of reasons for this number, but it is mainly due to funding and the competing wages of graduate teaching assistants, Pivo said.

At the UA, graduate teaching assistants are at the 30th percentile in net stipends, compared to other public universities. This means that after paying tuition, the amount of money UA graduate assistants receive ranks with the bottom third of public universities.

The numbers reflecting stipends have brought UA down from the 50th percentile to 30th percentile in the past couple years, he said.

Another problem is the approximately 20 percent of master's students and 30 percent of Ph.D. students do not finish their degree at UA, said Pete Morris, president of the graduate and professional student council.

"Like most institutions, there is a strong link between being a TA and finishing graduate work at UA," Morris said.

UA has 30 percent more undergraduate students per graduate teaching assistant than the average university, Pivo said.

Pivo is proposing that UA allocate $2 million in funding to hire 12 percent more graduate teaching assistants in an effort to reduce teaching assistants' workloads and keep enrollment up.

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