Grad school enrollment grows

Graduate school applications are on the rise at USF, but Florida’s sagging job market might not deserve the credit. USF administrators believe more aggressive recruiting by the University, not a lack of jobs, has led to the boost in applicants. In fact, more students may have applied for additional degrees because of increased employment opportunities in certain industries.

Dr. Brent Weisman, associate dean of the Graduate College, said that while national enrollment traditionally increases as hiring decreases, this might not be the case in the Tampa Bay area.

“There has been a very aggressive recruiting effort coming from some of (our) programs,” Weisman said. “They are identifying new groups of potential students that wouldn’t have been interested in USF before.”

Weisman said the recruitment of these students, not decreased employment, is responsible for the recent increase in the number of USF graduate program applicants. Enrollment in graduate school has increased this year as well. The highest number of currently enrolled graduate students in the past five years, 8,359 at last count, follows a recent drop in applicants in 2005.

However, the rise in enrollment has not resulted in a surge of graduate school admission. The acceptance rate for Fall 2007 was 55 percent, down from 65 percent in 2006.

Recent downsizing in the Tampa area has not necessarily hurt the job prospects of graduate students.

“At the same time that companies are laying off, they may actually be recruiting on college campuses,” said Dr. Drema Howard, director of the USF Career Center. “A lot of employers are trying to tap into the college market.”

Lower salary requirements and up-to-date training provide new college graduates appealing replacements for a work force that is headed for retirement, Howard said.

“Overall, employers are saying to us, ‘hiring looks pretty good,'” he said.

According to a nationwide survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the hiring of college graduates in 2008 is expected to rise 16 percent across the country. The NACE report also stated that while graduate students have greater appeal than those with four-year degrees, 76 percent of employers who responded to the survey preferred relevant work experience.

Howard warns, however, that while overall job prospects still look good for college graduates, certain areas have been hit especially hard by the employment slump. For example, employers in the housing industry, such as mortgage companies, have seen a drop in hiring and employment.

How does all of this relate to the increase in graduate school applications? An increase in the competitive nature of the job market has driven many people to return for additional schooling, Howard said. But the push toward higher education may have an unexpected effect.

“What happens when you see a lot of people going into graduate school is that you take a lot of key people off of the (job) market,” he said.

For a short period of time, this may actually deplete the work force by removing some of the most talented and experienced employees.

In the long run, Howard said, this pays off for the students, literally.

“The higher level of degrees you have, the more money you are going to make over your lifetime,” he said.

Both Weisman and Howard agreed that the advantage of attending graduate school varies depending on the industry of employment. The goal of the USF graduate school is to predict growing areas of employment and offer programs that cater to the most lucrative opportunities in the job market.

“We try to put programs out in front of emerging technologies and emerging employment fields,” Weisman said.