Despite a boost in applications across multiple graduate and postgraduate programs from fall 2021 to fall 2022, enrollment took a dive, according to a report from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).
Thanks to significant increases in applications to colleges and universities offering master’s degrees (18.8%) and doctoral degrees at “high research activity” universities with R2 classification (10.4%), applications for admission increased by 3.9%.
However, overall first-time enrollment fell by 4.7%. Master’s degrees are the only program to have experienced an uptick, at 2.5%. Doctoral degree enrollment dipped by 4.4% at R2 schools and even more sharply at R1 schools at 6%. And while graduate certificates have experienced impressive growth between 2016-17 and 2021-22 at 10.5%, they, too, declined overall by 1.2%.
Of the 762 colleges and universities CGS sent the survey to, it gleaned data from 558 responses it deemed “usable.” All institutions surveyed were either members of CGS or one of the four regional graduate school associations. Those include the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools (CSGS), the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools (MAGS), the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS) and the Western Association of Graduate Schools (WAGS).
This decline in enrollment snaps a two-year streak of positive enrollment in 2020 (1.8%) and 2021 (8.9%). CGS did not speculate why enrollment declined despite the increase in applications.
How did different fields of study fare?
Business, health sciences and education made up 45% of first-time graduate enrollments, which CGS finds consistent with other surveys. However, while they contribute to the bulk of enrolled first-time graduate students, their enrollment declined by more than 6%, 7.5% and 11.6%, respectively.
Mathematics and computer science was only the only broad field of study to experience an increase in enrollment at 5.4%. Enrollment among international students and female students was both about 17%. Overall, mathematics and computer science have seen a 17% increase in the last 10 years.
On the other hand, another STEM field experienced some of the sharpest declines. Enrollment fell by more than 8%.
Enrollment declines across every race/ethnicity
For underrepresented minorities, which CGS defines as American Indian/Alaskan, Black/African American and Latinx, first-time enrollment fell by an average of 5% across all demographics. Additionally, despite Asian students being the only race to experience a positive increase in last year’s survey, their enrollment fell more than URM students—by almost 9%.
However, no other race or ethnicity faced as steep a decline among first-time graduates as White students. Following a steady 10-year decline in enrollment, White students experienced an 11% drop. Nevertheless, White students still make up 57% of first-time graduates; among them, 58% are female.
Who runs the world? Girls.
Women made up more than 55% of enrollees at the master’s degree and certificate level and at the doctorate level. Their proportion was the most heavy-handed in public administration and services (79.6%), health sciences (79.5%) and education (77.7%).
Aside from doctoral degrees, women earned 60% of all graduate certificate degrees and master’s degrees.
When it came to STEM fields, however, men still outpaced women. Men earned at least 65% of master’s degrees and doctoral degrees in engineering, mathematics and computer sciences.