Similar… But Completely Different: How Graduate Program Management Differs from UndergradNeil Trotta | Assistant Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and MBA Program Director, Fisher College
It is not about ocean views, hot tubs and luxury amenities in the dormitories. It is more about relevant professional academic programs, the program cost, time to complete the program and convenience for the student. Graduate degree programs differ greatly from undergraduate.
Traditional undergraduate enrollment management typically has two intakes per year. In graduate degree enrollment management, on the other hand, there are multiple entry points for students and likely rolling admissions. In the world of graduate enrollment management there is far less parental involvement in comparison to undergraduate enrollment management. The potential graduate student who may apply to your graduate program is an educated consumer. They have done the research themselves and they are now looking for answers to their specific questions. Their parents and their high school guidance counselor have not made strong recommendations to them as to where they need to apply for admission. It is up to them to decide on their professional graduate degree. There is also not the same tuition discounting with graduate admissions as we currently see with undergraduate admissions. Many graduate students pay out of their own pocket, take on graduate assistantships, receive funding from their employer or take out loans to cover the cost of tuition for their graduate degree. In many instances the graduate degree cost is often less expensive than the cost of four or five years to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
Reasons for graduate students to attend a graduate program differ from undergraduates as well. At the present time, going to college as an undergraduate is a must. Parents and high school students alike begin to plan for this early in the student’s high school career. It is a very stressful time for both the high school student and their parents. Typically students researching and applying to graduate school are doing so for job or career aspirations. We have to remember, graduate students are older—in some cases much older—than an undergraduate applicant. However, many institutions today are offering 4+1 programs to their undergraduates from their first contact. A 4+1 program provides the incoming student the ability to stay in college for one additional year and leave with both their undergraduate degree and graduate degree. Not a bad deal! Not a bad deal for the student and also not a bad deal for the institution. The institution is able to retain that student for one additional year. Some may say it is a win-win.
Attracting students is also much different at the graduate program level. Virtual and online information sessions and open houses are very popular. The potential applicants for graduate programs are at a different stage in their lives. Attending an open house in the evening or on a Saturday may not work. The graduate applicants are juggling many things. They have work, family and now a potential graduate degree on the horizon. They may not have the time to a drive to a college campus, spend an hour at an information session and then drive back home. Many students today are also coming to graduate programs in the U.S. from other countries. China, Vietnam, India, Columbia, Venezuela, Russia and Taiwan are all good recruitment areas for MBA programs in particular. Institutions today often offer an alumni discount or scholarship program. If you complete your undergraduate degree at one institution, they will offer a discount (15 to 25 percent) to return to obtain your graduate degree. Again, a win-win.
Professional master’s degrees are in big demand today. I have read a few pieces by Sean Gallagher from Northeastern University. Professional master’s degrees with a focus on a particular career differ greatly from the eye-catching undergraduate programs. Typically new degree development for an institution has an internal vetting process and the degrees are workforce motivated as I mentioned above. Institutions ensure that the institutional research department is involved in the vetting process. New degree programs require a great deal of research and data before they are fully developed. There must be a market demand and workforce demand. Students searching for graduate degrees today may not have the ability to quit their jobs to study full-time. Many institutions will take into consideration a blended modality or a fully online modality to accommodate students. There are many institutions that offer their graduate programs online with no campus attendance or residency required.
Lastly, many institutions today develop graduate programs with specific corporate entities in mind. The curriculum and modality are customized and crafted to that corporate entity and industry. Also, for an entire corporate entity to “sign on” with a specific college or university they often times guarantee a specific number of students will attend. Then in turn the college or university will provide a discounted tuition rate for that organization. Again, it is a win-win.
As you can see, graduate and undergraduate schools are worlds apart and many times attracting a different type of student. Graduate degrees that are professional in nature and that are workforce driven are in high demand today. Institutions must still ensure they do their research and due diligence when creating new graduate degrees to be certain the demand will be there.
Author Perspective: Administrator