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After the pandemic impacting enrollment numbers, graduate school numbers are slowly increasing with an influx of 11 students this fall.

Overall graduate school enrollment is up this fall by 11 students, totaling 7,635, according to annual data, following years of decline.

Fewer students have enrolled in graduate programs at the University of Kansas the last few years, but the numbers have started to improve, Amanda Ostreko, thedirector of Graduate Enrollment Managementsaid.

During the 2019-2020 school year, there was a decrease of 276 graduate students. Last year, enrollment in grad school decreased by 10 students, according to KU Analytics

Ostreko said they have noticed the decrease and efforts are being put in place to help enrollment on all levels through the university’s Jayhawks Rising strategic plan.

Graduate enrollments, especially at the master’s level, are often connected to employment rates, Ostreko said. 

“As unemployment levels decline, so do graduate enrollments,” she said. “As unemployment or concerns about job prospectus rise, so do graduate enrollments.”

Due to higher unemployment rates in the initial months of the pandemic, more undergraduate students chose to go on to graduate school due to a tight labor market and improved the university’s enrollment numbers, she said. 

“As the economy has bounced back, enrollments have declined as job prospects are very favorable, particularly in certain fields,” Osteko said. 

Kaitlyn Kuhl, a second-year graduate student studying speech-language pathology, had planned on going to grad school since she started the speech pathology program at Kansas State University her freshman year of college. 

However, she said her experience in grad school has not been what she expected. If she had known she would be doing her graduate-level classes online, she may have considered a different route, she said. 

“I never would have chosen an online grad school,” Kuhl said. “I know that's what some programs offer, and I never would have chosen that, that's just not really my thing, but I've adjusted to it. Now it's like a norm for me.”

Taylor Norden, a first-year graduate student in the accounting program, had a similar situation, during his undergrad he planned to earn a master’s in accounting.

After all of his classes senior year were online, he continued in the program because he was promised his graduate-level classes would be in person. 

“If that wasn’t the case, it would have been a different story,” Norden said. “It’s a lot harder to justify the cost of graduate hours for online classes.” 

Ostreko said a big challenge for enrollment numbers during the pandemic was how many international graduate students were not able to start their programs last year since many were still abroad. Many of those students were able to travel and start this year, she said.

Ostreko also said programs that have been primarily face-to-face in the past are now competing with other institutions in the market that have learned from the pandemic and expanded online program offerings. 

“Graduate students are increasingly looking at program format and flexibility in their decision-making process, which may differ somewhat from the traditional undergraduate student,” Ostreko said. “Thus, online, hybrid, accelerated and flexible program formats are an increasingly important aspect to the overall enrollment strategy.”

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