Graduate school applications continue to be in decline. For Fall 2017, applications for graduate schools were down 1.8% overall. At private institutions, applications were down 1.4%, while public institutions were down in applications 3.7% (Source: Council of Graduate Schools, Graduate Enrollment and Trends: 2007-2017). Although not a massive drop in applications, this trend should be alarming to graduate directors and enrollment managers. The trend aligns with recent precipitous declines, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, in M.B.A applications at "elite schools" as the degree continues to lose its glow.
There could be a number of reasons for this decline, including a strong United States job market, domestic political issues, a decline in international student applications, and an overall declining pool of college students. Graduate enrollment managers need to figure out how to stop the decline in applications and make sure that their institutions are set-up for success to meet and exceed yield goals.
Graduate school, as currently constructed, is going through a tectonic shift. The momentum that the economy has shown over the last few years signals a deepening divide between academia and industry. Unless academics and administrators gain a pulse on which programs to build and invest to help their students be more adept and effective in the workplace, more graduate programs will continue to close up shop.
This also means that prospective students are looking towards graduate programs with current or future career ambitions in mind as opposed to more holistic academic pursuits. This puts deans and graduate directors in difficult positions to try to understand what prospective graduate students want. Graduate directors can assist their deans in a meaningful way by thinking through the following four factors: 1) the practicality of the degree in meeting industry demands; 2) how quickly a student can complete the program; 3) how admissible the student is to the program; 4) how engaged the director of the program is with the prospective graduate student.
Prospective graduate students lead busy lives. They are often already members of the workforce with little spare time, some have families, and others are looking for a career change. Graduate programs need to think about how to facilitate campus events and to capture data from each one. Easy online scheduling, creating automated and personalized communication plans via text and email, and allowing prospective students check-in before arriving to the event allows for an institution to make the most out of every interaction. This shows prospective graduate students that their time is taken seriously and that the institution wants to build a relationship from the beginning of the interaction.
It is more important now than ever to make every visitor count.