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Graduate student enrollment on the rise at ETSU, Milligan

Rex Barber • Jul 16, 2012 at 8:47 AM

Milligan College graduate student David Martin is among an increasing number of people nationwide pursuing advanced degrees to get that extra edge in their careers.

“It’s becoming a requirement in the business world,” said Martin, who works at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. “It’s what the bachelor’s degree was 20, 25 years ago. The number of us who have bachelor’s degrees have almost saturated the market, it feels like. It’s the only way to pull yourself out of the resume stack and make yours stand out a little more.”

Courtney Kieslich, interim director of graduate and professional studies at Milligan, estimated a 25 percent increase in graduate student enrollment during the past four or five years at the college.

According to the Council of Graduate Schools, a national organization, during the decade from 2000-10 enrollment in graduate education increased nationally by 3.3 percent. During that same time period ETSU’s graduate enrollment increased by 13.7 percent, said Cecilia McIntosh, ETSU graduate dean.

McIntosh pointed out the Council of Graduate Schools predicted that by 2018 one in every seven new jobs will require a graduate degree.

Also according to the Council of Graduate schools, about 90 percent of the graduate degrees awarded in the nation in 2010 were master’s degrees. At ETSU, 88 percent of the advanced degrees earned in this past year were master’s degrees. More than 2,000 students are enrolled in advanced degree programs at ETSU.

“I think it’s safe to say it’s (graduate enrollment) been on the uptick for a long time and I think most of that is career driven,” McIntosh said.

Martin, who is in Milligan’s online executive MBA program, said working 30 years in a company and expecting to be promoted just because you’ve been there so long is not common anymore. Increasingly, employers are looking for someone with those advanced degrees for promotion.

“I am in the program to be able to strengthen my mobility with my current employer,” Martin said.

Kieslich said many MBA applicants do indeed say they want to move up in their current careers or be more marketable for promotions or other jobs that may develop. But some students who are unemployed enrolled in the MBA program at Milligan.

There are other reasons for increases in graduate school enrollment. Both ETSU and Milligan have added programs and increased enrollment slots to respond to demand. McIntosh said anytime a program is added, enrollment inevitably increases. But the interest must be there for a program to be added.

Part of the increase can likely be explained by a higher demand for health care services and the fact that many of those jobs require advanced degrees. The same is true for advancement in educational jobs. This is evidenced at ETSU by the increased enrollment in master’s degree programs of communicative disorders, physical therapy, chemistry, criminal justice, public administration, social work, computer science, educational media and technology, educational leadership, kinesiology and sport studies, special education, biomedical sciences, nursing and public health.

Most of those programs have a service connection to health and education.

At ETSU there are 38 master’s degree programs and 11 doctoral programs, not including the colleges of medicine and pharmacy. Some of these programs have multiple concentrations, so there are about 100 choices for graduate education at ETSU, McIntosh said.

Milligan has three established advanced degree programs available in business administration, education and occupational therapy. A counseling master’s degree program is beginning this fall.

Milligan has just more than 200 advanced degree students enrolled each year.

“We’ve also, because of experience, increased enrollment in the MBA program,” Kieslich said. “We decided to branch out and offer a cohort in Morristown.”

Milligan keeps class sizes low on purpose but in recent years the demand has prompted the college to increase graduate enrollment, specifically in the MBA program.

Milligan also is seeing an increase in students seeking to enter bachelor’s degree completion programs in either business administration or early childhood education.

A certificate in computer information systems (also available as an undergraduate major) is for students seeking an extra edge for employment, Kieslich said.

To enroll in Milligan’s degree completion programs, a student must have at least 52 credit hours toward their bachelor’s degree.

Around 70 people are enrolled in these degree completion programs, and oftentimes they continue in graduate programs.

McIntosh said many students are going straight into graduate education after earning a bachelor’s degree without ever having had a job in their career field. The plus side of this is that many programs of study offer the chance for internships that give experience that can lead to a job.

“I think there’s an attractiveness to getting someone with a graduate degree,” McIntosh said. “I think it does show you people have intellectual curiosity.”

Samantha Redwine, an ETSU student pursuing a master’s degree in sociology, went straight to graduate school upon completing her bachelor’s degree. She will likely become a professor, so she has motivation to continue her education with advanced degrees.

“My undergraduate degree is in sociology and I knew I couldn’t do much with that,” she said. “And now I’m thinking of getting my Ph.D. It’s pretty much the path I’m going to have to take.”

Logan Vess is another student in graduate school at ETSU who entered grad school right after completing his bachelor’s degree. He is studying counseling with a concentration in higher education.

With the field he is in, having only a bachelor’s degree “just doesn’t cut it.” He knew this while earning his bachelor’s degree.

“With the economy the way it is and everything I knew the more education you can get the better job you can get and salary and everything like that,” Vess said. “I don’t think it’s out of line to say the master’s degree has become the bachelor’s degree of 20 years ago.”

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