Schenectady County

Recession drives increase in applications to grad school

The recession is pushing up applications to Capital Region graduate schools, including those from pe

The recession is pushing up applications to Capital Region graduate schools, including those from people who have lost their jobs or are looking to change careers.

And more of those who graduated this spring with bachelor’s degrees are deciding to head right to graduate school after looking at the sluggish, unpromising job market, school officials say.

Graduate programs at the state University of New York at Albany, Union Graduate College, the College of St. Rose and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are all reporting increases in applications this year as compared with 2008.

“Applications are up for all our programs,” said Joanne Fitzgerald, vice president for enrollment management at Union Graduate College in Schenectady.

Overall applications for graduate study at the graduate college (which is separate from Union College) are up by 4 percent over 2008, she said. At the college’s master’s in teaching program, for example, 51 have been accepted this year, 45 last year.

Enrollment in the master’s in business administration program at Union Graduate College, which starts in the fall, is also up slightly from last year, Fitzgerald said.

However, Fitzgerald said she is not seeing any great increase in older people coming back. “We always see that,” Fitzgerald said, about people leaving the job market to get advanced degrees.

At the College of St. Rose, applications for graduate school have increased 5.5 percent compared with last year, said Colleen Thapalia, director of graduate admissions.

“We are seeing change-of-career people, especially in the school of education,” Thapalia said. She said there are also more older students coming back to get a master’s degree in accounting.

“For people who were thinking about [getting a graduate degree], the economy was the push factor to get them to act on it,” Thapalia said.

master’s in education

The College of St. Rose has an enrollment of about 2,000 in its graduate programs.

The largest segments are students seeking their master’s degree in teaching.

At the state University of New York at Albany, applications for graduate school have increased the past two years, said college spokesman Karl Luntta.

This year applications are up about 4 percent against last year. Luntta said the trend at University at Albany is similar to that seen at graduate schools across the country. “It’s typical of what happens in tough times.”

As of May 20, the number of graduate school applications at the University of Albany was 4,017 as compared with 3,831 last year.

Luntta said the graduate program does not track students by age.

At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, a future-plan survey of 810 new RPI graduates indicated that 28 percent planned on graduate school. Thomas Tarantelli, director of RPI’s career development center, said this is higher than average, which is about 25 percent going on to grad school.

“A lot of that is attributable to the job market,” Tarantelli said.

He said he has seen the same increase in graduate school attendance during other recessions, such as in 1990 and 2001.

“It is looked at as a way to ride out the recession,” he said. “They buy their way out of the recession.”

“It’s like an investment,” Tarantelli said. He said the student increases his or her skills and increases his or her job-finding networks in graduate school.

Tarantelli said RPI is also seeing the trend of older people coming back to get a graduate degree because of the weak job market. At RPI some 36 percent of recent graduates have found jobs in their field while approximately 32 percent are still looking for work or are taking time off before looking for work.

In normal economic times, the number of RPI graduates finding jobs in their field is about 60 percent, Tarantelli said.

Enrollment in graduate schools nationwide has grown at a consistent 3 percent average in recent years, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.

“Lots of people are going to look into graduate school in a recession environment,” said Peter Dorhout, vice provost for Colorado State University’s graduate school program, in a story in the Rocky Mountain Collegian.

A story in The New York Times earlier this year said graduate school can be a way some people reinvent themselves.

“You will need contacts in any new profession, and graduate programs can help connect you with alumni working in that field,” said Eileen Kohan, director of career planning at the University of Southern California.

“Graduate school isn’t cheap,” the story cautions. “If your portfolio is down and cash reserves are short, it may not be a wise choice right now.”

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