Because of the down economy, the number of graduate students here in the United States has started faltering, even though applications surged as more and more considered a master’s or Ph.D. program a viable alternative to wait out the recession. While it’d be more than a sliver hyperbolic to declare grad school a threatened species lurking within the higher education ecosystem, the hosting institutes do need to adapt to shifts and trends impacting admissions if they hope to survive the harsh winters and the top-level predators and the other metaphors. Even some of the most age-old strategies out there still lure potential students with their innovation and creativity — especially when they chip away at the usual concerns (time and money) or offer some pretty amazing perks to further diversify the experience.
Help for parents
For most aspirant master’s and Ph.D. students, the major issue regarding application and enrollment revolves around the overarching cost. Moms and dads of kids particularly struggle with establishing a healthy balance between school, work, and raising their progeny to not be serial killers, reality TV stars, or general jerkwads. In order to alleviate much of the stress regarding What To Do With Junior while class is in session, some schools offer up a variety of different childcare options. U.S. New & World Report points out that about 5% of colleges and universities in the United States offer on-campus daycare for students who also happen to be parents, be they undergraduate or graduate. Others target mothers with lactation rooms and babysitting and food services so they never have to bother with scampering around the city to ensure proper care for their children.
But grad students don’t have to reproduce in order to enjoy some lovely little incentives to buoy them through fiscal hardships. In an effort to entice their master’s and Ph.D. enrollees to apply for fellowships beyond those the school already offers, Wayne University hosts a lovely little incentive program rewarding them for different achievement levels. Applying earns them $1,000, with up to an additional $1,000 if they receive the money. Students who score external fellowships also qualify to receive health insurance on the university’s dollar and tuition shortfall forgiveness. Meanwhile, at Oregon State, McNair Scholars applying to the graduate programs do not have to pay an admissions fee and, for those who qualify, tuition remission. Such a financial perk brings in more students marking the first time someone in their families attended college, providing them with a smoother shot at graduate-level courses and degrees.
Another strategy meant to provide (comparatively) more affordable graduate school options involves placing complete programs online. That may sound like a strategy exclusively employed by sketchy diploma mills, but legitimately recognized universities like Penn State and Texas Tech both provide certain master’s and Ph.D. degree plans (in other words, the ones requiring little interactivity and lab work, like the humanities) digitally. Sometimes they require a quick jaunt to campus once or twice yearly, but for the most part enrollees enjoy a higher degree of autonomy and flexibility in their studies not always afforded to their more traditional counterparts. Online education aficionados adore programs like these because of how they open up opportunities to student demographics with financial or extenuating circumstances who might not otherwise be able to attend. Best of all, the quality of these digital options equals that of their classroom counterparts; the more reputable schools genuinely take pains to ensure uniformity across programs, never even indicating the online element on the final degrees.
Other schools enjoy tantalizing potential students with some academically lucrative collaborations. For example, art history grads at Case Western Reserve University enjoy a partnership with the Cleveland Museum of Art, which offers them real-world experience with curating, restoration, and other essentials unavailable when merely watching slides all day, every day. A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provides funding and stipends for two Ph.D. candidates yearly and allows this rich programming option to continue. Also in the arts, the University/Resident Theatre Association works directly with colleges and universities offering theatre degrees, pairing them up with professional organizations. In doing so, opportunities for students to engage with experienced troupes and companies grant them an edge once their degrees wrap up and they head off into the big, scary world of auditions and agents and scraping together enough gigs to live.
Some partnerships simultaneously allow master’s and Ph.D. students a chance at participating in philanthropic endeavors, donating their time and talents when their wallets remain thin. Both Teach for America and, for the more hardcore, the Peace Corps team up with undergraduate and graduate programs. With the former, eligible students open themselves up to a few different benefits, depending on the school’s arrangements. This includes anything from fee and tuition waivers to employment deferrals to scholarships, making the organization a tempting option for many individuals eyeing the involved grad programs. The Peace Corps offers up two different paths, including tuition and loan reimbursement as well as a complete master’s program. Known as Master’s International, participating institutions split student time into a stint overseas and another on campus, with plenty of fellowships and scholarships available.
Customization might be an old strategy, but it remains old rather than flitting through as some passing education fad for a legitimate reason. Quite simply, people love options. And they love playing up their strengths and setting up goals and challenges unique to their needs. Ergo, one easily notices the appeal of “design-your-own” graduate programs. Offered by the likes of Rutgers and Lesley University, they pretty much operate exactly as the designation implies. It’s not exactly free reign for obvious reasons (as awesome as it’d be to major in beer and pizza and video games, that’s probably not a thing), but students still take control of their coursework and present a proposal to the administration for approval. For interdisciplinary types especially, such a structure works wonders in piquing their curiosity.
As much as graduate students sometimes suffer beneath the course load of a master’s or Ph.D. program and might want to see them disappear, graduate programs aren’t going extinct anytime soon. They remain an integral component of higher education because of both creative approaches (like the ones listed above) as well as career advancement opportunities they provide.