BY SARA RAASCH
Last year, there were 550 students in Mount Mary’s graduate programs; this year, there are 511.
In September, the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C., reported in its annual Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees that graduate programs are currently experiencing slower than typical growth; total graduate enrollment nationwide fell 0.2 percent between fall 2012 and fall 2013, following a 2.3 percent decline the previous year.
Although Mount Mary’s overall decline in graduate enrollment during the past year is greater than the national average, it is not indicative of a recurring trend.
According to Douglas Mickelson, dean of the graduate school at Mount Mary, “there are a lot of challenges in higher education today.”
A decline in the number of high school graduates could be one of the factors, Mickelson said. Fewer high school graduates means that colleges and universities compete for a smaller number of applicants.
Although the number of Mount Mary graduate students declined from fall 2013 to fall 2014, previous years showed a steady rise in graduate student enrollment. Mickelson said that from fall 2007 to fall 2014, there was an increase in graduate enrollment, from 377 to 511. First-time graduate student enrollment for the same period increased from 81 to 122 students.
In addition, “There were more graduate degrees awarded in the spring, summer and fall of 2013-14 than undergraduate degrees,” Mickelson said.
Economic Importance of a Graduate Education
Suzanne T. Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, emphasized the importance of graduate degrees to the economy.
“People with graduate degrees are driving growth and innovation in our economy, and graduate-level skills are in higher demand every year,” Ortega said.
Ortega explained that while there are more jobs that require advanced degrees, there are not enough opportunities for students to earn graduate degrees.
“To meet the needs of our economy, we must invest in graduate education and better support the students who enroll in master’s and Ph.D. programs with more grants and fellowships to reduce their reliance on loans,” Ortega said.
Graduate Education at Mount Mary
For some students, a graduate education is an opportunity to improve upon or develop new skills. For others, it’s a job requirement.
Amani Asad, a language arts teacher at Salam School in Milwaukee, is currently a student in the graduate English program at Mount Mary. She was drawn to the writing concentrations that are not offered at other universities in the Milwaukee area.
“I couldn’t find a grad program that I liked,” Asad said. “And I knew I wanted a smaller setting.”
Sarah Bauer, an Illinois native, plans to be an art therapist. She came to Mount Mary immediately after earning her undergraduate degree. A graduate degree is necessary in her field, according to Bauer.
“I will have a better job because of it,” Bauer said.
Graduate student Diandrea Seipel is in Mount Mary’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. A master’s degree is required to become a licensed professional counselor, which is her goal. Seipel earned her B.A. in psychology from Cardinal Stritch, but she chose Mount Mary for graduate school for many reasons, including school size and the number of credits required for the program.
“I decided to come here because the CMHC degree is 60 credits and if I had to move to a different state, some states require you to have a 60-credit degree,” Seidel said. “Also, I wanted a more established program.”
Enrollment Challenges, Areas of Growth
One of the smaller graduate programs at Mount Mary is the English program. According to the Mount Mary Fact Sheet, the program had 60 students in the fall of 2009. Last year it had 38. Currently it has 33, according to Ann Angel, director of the English graduate program.
Angel said although numbers are lower than in years past, “the quality of the program is still very, very strong.”
Angel also said she understands the difficulties students have with educational expenses in a time when there is little grant money or government help. Also, teachers don’t have an incentive to obtain a second master’s degree. However, she remains optimistic.
“Companies still need good writers,” Angel said. “Listening and communication skills are still valued.”
Other programs, such as the graduate counseling program, are on an upward trend in terms of enrollment. According to Mickelson, the counseling program has the largest number of students this fall with 137 students. He projects this to grow to 160 students next year.
For the past five years, the graduate counseling program has maintained or exceeded expected enrollment. Four years ago, the 60-credit Clinical Mental Health Counseling concentration replaced the 48-credit Community Counseling concentration.
According to Carrie King, director of the M.S. in Counseling program, “The School Counseling concentration has consistently made up approximately 15 percent of our counseling student enrollment.”
If the counseling program receives accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program, “we expect enrollment to be positively impacted,” King said.
In addition, a new concentration in Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling is being developed.
“We will be accepting the first group of students in fall 2015,” King said. “This will positively impact our enrollment.”
Mickelson also reported growth in the occupational therapy program, which is now being offered as the first 100 percent online program at Mount Mary. As of late September, Mickelson reported enrollment of 118 students, with a projected enrollment of 150 by next fall.
Kari C. Inda, chairperson of the occupational therapy program, confirmed the growth.
“Our enrollment has been at capacity for the last few years and the number of applications for our program has grown steadily,” Inda said. “OT has received a lot of national press from entities such as U.S. News and World Report, CNN Money, and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics as a career that is recession-proof, is in high demand, and is a rewarding career. Therefore, I believe that has contributed to the increased attention of our major by students.”
In addition, Inda said the university’s first doctoral-level courses are now being offered as part of its new Professional Doctorate in Occupational Therapy.
Mickelson expects that the small decline witnessed in fall of 2014 will trend upward by next fall with the expansion of these programs, including the Professional Doctorate of Art Therapy, which was the first program of its kind in the nation.
Mount Mary President Eileen Schwalbach is optimistic about the potential growth of the school’s graduate programs.
“We have initiated undergraduate degrees in marketing and interior merchandising this fall and a doctorate in occupational therapy,” Schwalbach said. “We anticipate that we will offer a Bachelor of Science Nursing Completion Program, beginning next fall.”
According to Ortega, “we can’t put more qualified American workers into these high-level jobs until we create more opportunities for them to earn graduate degrees.”
Mickelson projects that Mount Mary’s new graduate offerings will help reverse the decline in graduate enrollment. “The growth of Mount Mary will be connected to its grad programs,” Mickelson said.