Graduate school enrollment is higher ed's big bet for growth - University Business

Graduate school enrollment is higher ed's big bet for growth  University Business

Graduate school enrollment has been a bright spot for many universities in recent years but leaders may not be able to hang all their financial hopes on continued growth.

More than half of university presidents, provosts and enrollment leaders say they have increased the number of graduate and adult programs over the last few turbulent years, according to a new survey by EAB, a higher ed enrollment consultancy. But even while graduate and adult student enrollment remains higher than pre-pandemic levels, the numbers dropped in 2021 and 2022 after a spike in 2020.

It means leaders may not be able to rely on growing graduate schools to compensate for precipitous declines in undergraduate enrollment. “The result: growing pressure on graduate enrollment, at a time when this market is becoming more challenging,” the report concludes.

Nearly one-third of U.S. 18- to 24-year-olds are opting out of college while students’ interest in college and universities outside the top 100 is forecast to drop by more than 10% between 2025 and 2030, the report says. All of the presidents—and almost all of the other leaders surveyed by EAB—said increasing graduate and adult enrollment is a priority.

However, tuition from graduate and adult programs continues to comprise a small percentage of most institutions’ revenue. More than half of leaders surveyed said those programs account for less than 20% of their net tuition revenue. Only around 15% said these funds represented more than half their tuition revenue.

Leaders also said “setting realistic enrollment goals” for these programs was the most difficult part of the process internally while hiring the staff needed to increase enrollment was another formidable problem. Identifying the programs with the greatest growth potential was seen as a third significant obstacle.

Externally, competition from other universities, particularly large online institutions, is seen as the biggest external barrier.

Still, allied healthcare, business and nursing are seen as the biggest areas for growth as leaders also work to raise the enrollment of adult and graduate students from underrepresented groups and attract students from outside their primary markets. And more than eight in 10 leaders cited expanding the number of adult and graduate programs offered online as an ongoing goal.

The report recommends that leaders facing staffing and budget constraints consider outsourcing graduate enrollment initiatives to an external partner. Institutions must also find a way to zero in on high-demand programs and subjects that are most likely to drive growth.

* This article was originally published here

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