Pitt not keeping up with peers on graduate school enrollment


There’s no shortage of options when it comes to graduate and doctoral education at Pitt.

At a presentation for the Student Admissions, Aid and Affairs committee on Feb. 22, Amanda Godley, vice provost for graduate studies, said Pitt has 359 different graduate programs across 14 schools, including 62 programs that are completely online.

The good news nationwide is continuing growth in professional masters and Ph.D. programs, such as the doctor of nursing practice and doctor of education degrees. Micro-credential and certificate programs also are growing. While overall the AAU public schools have seen a nearly 25 percent increase in graduate enrollment over the past 10 years, Pitt is down about 9.6 percent over the same period.

“Although in the past two years we’ve increased our graduate enrollment by 4.5 percent, our overall 10 year data shows a pretty significant decrease that is not in line with national trends,” Godley said. “And that’s something that we are focused on in graduate studies.”

Chart on grad enrollment

Enrollment has been just over 9,000 for the past few years, Godley said. Of those, about 54 percent are white, 18 percent Asian or Asian-American, 7 percent Black, and 6 percent Hispanic. Godley said over the past 10 years Pitt has seen about a 25 percent increase in graduate and professional students who identify as Black and about a 50 percent increase in students who identify as Latinx.

International students make up about 22 percent of the graduate and professional student body, which has stayed pretty consistent over the past 10 years, except for a dip during the height of the pandemic in 2020-21. In addition, 49 percent of the student body is from Pennsylvania.

Godley said one difference from the undergraduate system is that admissions in graduate and professional schools is very decentralized, with different criteria and policies. This means there are 20 different admissions systems across the University, which makes it difficult to get centralized, standardized information about admissions.

“We’ve been working to try to reduce the number of different systems that are used, but in some cases it’s just simply not possible because for accreditation issues or certain professional organizations require programs to use their own admission system,” she said.

A new Centralized Admission System by Liaison is helping the graduate studies office to compile more demographic information across schools, Godley said, like applications received and yield, race, ethnicity and gender information, and how many are first-generation students. She said the first data from this should be available this spring.

Another area Godley’s team has been looking at is use of the GRE. They plan to send out a new survey soon. The one they did in 2021 found that in 74 percent of programs the GRE was either not accepted or was optional.

National trends

In addition to the growth of professional masters and Ph.D. programs, there are several national trends that Godley’s office is following:

  • Incredibly fast-growing demand for online master’s and professional programs. Unlike research master’s programs, these typically don’t require a master’s thesis.

  • Increased calls for access and affordability of these online programs, particularly for underrepresented students or people who can’t take a year or two off work to get a master’s degree. “What we’re seeing across the country is not only are online and hybrid graduate programs increasing, but the demand for enrollment in in-person master’s programs is decreasing.”

  • Demand for part-time programs and programs that have flexibility built in, such as being able to take six credits this term, three the next, and six over the summer.

  • Increased demand for accelerated programs from undergrad to graduate, which allow students to compress their education in a particular area and get a master’s degree in one year post-baccalaureate when it might have taken two if done separately.

  • Fewer students from China and more from India, as India’s middle class grows and China develops more graduate-level programs at home.

  • On the doctoral level, Godley said there is a very big national trend in holistic mentoring and advising that focuses on students well-being not just their research project. It also looks at how schools are supporting individual career goals and life paths.

  • There’s still demand for doctoral degrees, but, ”There’s a big change in our assumptions about what Ph.D. students do after they graduate. Fewer and fewer are going into academia, particularly faculty positions, and many are going into industry.”

Strategic goals

The graduate studies office has spent the past year working on a strategic plan and getting input of various stakeholders, from faculty to students to deans to Senate committees.

Through this they’ve developed a mission statement and seven strategic goals:

  • Support continued growth of innovative and world-renown graduate and professional programs and research.

  • Provide holistic support for students’ wellbeing and success.

  • Increase representation and success of underrepresented students.

  • Increase enrollment in master’s and professional programs.

  • Provide graduate and professional educational opportunities that serve our city, region and state.

  • Prepare students to secure meaningful employment and contribute to communities beyond the university.

  • Provide infrastructure to support key functions of graduate administration.

Some of the steps they’ve taken already to meet these goals include sponsoring a workshop with the Office of Admission and Financial Aid in the fall to help schools learn about best practices in holistic admissions and getting potential grad students access to Degree Finder, an online resources that helps students find the graduate or professional program that is the best fit for them.

“More than half of the hits on that website are for graduate programs,” Godley said. “So we’re we’re really grateful that we were brought into that. We also revamped the graduate studies website to try to provide better information for current and prospective students kind of a one-stop-shopping approach.

Godley also has expanded the graduate studies office, adding Treviene Harris, who’s focusing on career and professional development; Shannon Mischler, who’s helping schools develop new, innovative graduate and professional programs such as online master’s programs, and Alydia Thomas, who is focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging among grad students.

Other innovation have included the Pitt to Pitt Scholarship program, which provides up to $7,500 to Pitt undergrads or alumni who want to enroll in a University graduate program, and a new peer mentoring program for new international graduate students, which was expected to attract 50 students and got 500.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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