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Graduate degrees still in demand despite economy

Despite the current economic situation, the university does not expect graduate enrollment to change drastically, a university official said.

Bonnie Melhart, associate provost for academic affairs, said the university still has students seeking a graduate degree because it’s a credential that will help advance their careers.

“In an uncertain economic time, people don’t know exactly what to invest in,” Melhart said. “But we don’t expect that we’re going to see any difference here than we did before.”

Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, wrote in an e-mail that jobs are likely to be scarce because of the economy, but the idea of a graduate degree will appeal to some people as a way to prepare for the hopeful upturn of the economy that will occur in the next few years.

For students like Sarah Miller, the current economy will not affect her decision to attend graduate school.

“Graduate school isn’t a choice for me,” the junior psychology major said. “I have to have a master’s in psychology if I want a good job.”

Melhart agreed with Donovan, adding that the university hopes to add to its current graduate programs.

“We would like to add some new graduate programs, and so overall, our graduate presence should increase,” Melhart said. “But if it will be in the same programs or not, I don’t know. Graduate programs come and go.”

Graduate tuition for the 2008-2009 academic year is $16,830 based on nine hours per semester at about $935 per hour, whereas undergraduate tuition for the year is $26,900, according to the university Web site.

Most graduate students have some kind of financial aid, whether it be grants, tuition paid by employers or some other form of tuition assistance, Melhart said. The financial aid packages for graduate students are generally more than what undergraduate students receive, she said.

Since fall 2003, graduate enrollment has increased, according to the 2007 Fact Book. In that four-year period, there has been a 21.2 percent increase, not including Brite Divinity School students.

The official fall 2008 graduate enrollment is 1,225 students, Melhart wrote in an e-mail. Additionally, Brite Divinity School has another 242 graduate students enrolled this semester, she wrote.

Claire Sanders, faculty adviser for the Graduate Student Senate, said even though she hasn’t seen a difference in numbers, there is potential for the current economy to affect peoples’ ability to afford graduate education.

Sanders said a lot of people don’t understand how expensive graduate school is, and not just in terms of money. It is a full investment of time and energy, but at the same time it’s a challenging and rewarding experience, she said.

However, many feel more competitive in the job market if they have a master’s degree, Sanders said.

“I think a lot of people feel that graduate work or a graduate degree is important because it increases their ability to earn income,” Sanders said.

Blake Robertson, a senior theatre major, said she is applying to graduate schools across the country. Robertson said she is aware that she cannot afford the tuition costs and will be depending on financial aid to help her along the way, but she said the economy won’t affect her decision to attend graduate school.

However, Cameron Pool, a sophomore theatre and environmental science double major, said he doesn’t plan on applying to graduate school for two main reasons: he can’t afford the tuition, and he wants to focus on film, adding that a graduate degree wouldn’t benefit him in that area.

Pool said because film is different than theatre, he wants to pursue an acting career at a young age, which steers him away from graduate school.

“The more time I let pass, the least likely I will get a role at a young age like I want,” Pool said.

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