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U.S. Students Drive Growth in Graduate Enrollment

September 21, 2009

In 2008, the enrollment of first-time students at American graduate school programs grew faster for U.S. citizens and permanent residents than for international students, according to a recently released report from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS). From fall 2007 to fall 2008, first-time enrollment of domestic students in graduate schools rose by 4.7 percent, compared with a 3.3 percent gain in the first-time enrollment of non-U.S. citizens. 

The nearly 5 percent increase in domestic first-time graduate students is the largest reported by CGS since it documented an 11 percent jump in 2002. Overall, first-time enrollment increased 4.5 percent in 2008, slightly higher than the 3.9 percent average annual growth over the 10-year period (1998-2008). 

Over the past decade, however, international student enrollments have generally grown at a higher rate than domestic attendees. CGS's report, Graduate Enrollment and Degrees, 1998 to 2008, shows that the average annual growth rate in first-time enrollment of domestic graduate students was 3.4 percent during the decade, compared with  5.5 percent annual growth in the number of international first-time enrollees. 

Among U.S. citizens, this year's enrollment growth was driven largely by increases in the number of minority enrollees. The number of first-time Latino and Native American graduate students jumped 10.6 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively. White non-Hispanic first-time enrollment gained about 3.5 percent in the same period. Total graduate enrollment (first-time plus all other students) increased by at least 4.5 percent annually, on average, for all U.S. minority groups, compared with 1.5 percent for White, non-Hispanics. 

The vast majority of first-time graduate students (85%) were pursuing either a master's degree or a certificate. Women accounted for the vast majority of students enrolled in and earning master's degrees and certificates. In 2007-08, women earned about two-thirds of the graduate certificates and 60 percent of the master's; in contrast, they accounted for just under half (49 percent) of doctorates conferred.  

Additionally, the report shows that applications for admission to U.S. graduate schools increased 4.8 percent between 2007 and 2008; the average annual increase over the past 10 years was 3.8 percent.

The CGS report presents statistics on applications and enrollment for fall 2008, degrees conferred in 2007-08, and trend data for one-, five- and ten-year periods. Data are disaggregated for a number of student demographic and institutional characteristics. Please visit the CGS website to obtain a copy of the report.


Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis