Loyola’s graduate student population started shrinking about seven years ago, and it hasn’t stopped since. Enrollment in both master’s and doctoral programs have declined throughout those seven years, according to the university’s enrollment statistics.
Overall enrollment in doctoral programs dropped by almost 6 percent from fall 2017 to fall 2018, according to the statistics. The number of students enrolled in doctoral programs declined from 520 to 490 between those years. Within the same time frame, the School of Education also experienced an enrollment decrease of almost 20 percent in its master’s programs, the statistics show.
The College of Arts and Sciences, Quinlan School of Business and the Schools of Social Work and Education have experienced the most significant enrollment declines in master’s programs said Loyola’s Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Business Officer Wayne Magdziarz.
However, enrollment has declined in most of the university’s master’s programs, said Loyola’s Interim Provost and Chief Academic Officer Margaret Callahan.
Both Callahan and Magdziarz said the decrease in graduate student enrollment is largely a side effect of the economy being in a good place, as this makes people more likely to enter their work fields than return to school.
“Graduate enrollment decline at any institution can be tied to the economy as the economy improves,” Magdziarz said.
Similar to Loyola, enrollment in DePaul’s graduate and law schools experienced a drop in enrollment between 2010 and 2011, according to the university’s enrollment statistics. However, DePaul’s decline only lasted until 2015 and enrollment has continually increased since then, the statistics show.
Decreased enrollment in the Loyola’s graduate programs partially contributed to the 3.3 percent increase in undergraduate tuition last year, as fewer graduate students lead to less tuition revenue for the university, The Phoenix reported.
When determining the amount of money lost from decreased enrollment in graduate programs, Loyola took out the Stritch School of Medicine and doctoral programs to solely analyze the enrollment decline of masters students, Magdziarz said. He said with these areas out of the equation, there has been a $22 million loss in net revenue over the past seven years.
The Stritch School of Medicine was removed from financial consideration because its graduate student enrollment numbers are fairly predictable, since the school receives more applicants than it can accept into its programs.
Alec Stubbs, a 26-year-old philosophy doctoral student who’s a part of the graduate student union at Loyola, said while it’s important to consider the economic and financial aspects of the decline, the perspective of graduate students “on the ground” is also essential.
The ongoing struggle between the graduate student union and the university is something Stubbs said he thinks contributes to the decline in graduate student enrollment. After voting to unionize in 2017, the graduate student union has repeatedly called for recognition and a union contract from the university, The Phoenix reported.
Any discussion involving the university’s declining graduate student population “must also be met with a criticism of the working conditions and pay of graduate student workers at Loyola,” Stubbs said.
Magdziarz said he doesn’t think there’s a correlation between enrollment decline and the long-standing disagreements between the graduate student union and the university, emphasizing again Loyola’s decline “is not unusual given the fact the economy’s doing well.”
June Coyne, a 33-year-old history doctorate’s student who’s the president of the Graduate Student Advisory Council, said Loyola has a strong graduate community. However, she also said the relationship between the university and its graduate students has room for improvement and partially contributes to the enrollment decline.
“At times, it can feel like graduate students come third after the faculty and undergraduates,” Coyne said.
Caroline McCraw, a 30-year-old digital humanities master’s student who’s also a part of the graduate student union, said she thinks graduate student workers are undervalued at Loyola. At both Loyola and beyond, McCraw said students are “feeling a bit discouraged about the future of academia.”
The rev. Thomas Regan, S.J., the dean of Loyola’s graduate school, said the university is trying its best to improve the experience of graduate students at Loyola. Regan said when he first started working as dean of Loyola’s graduate school, he understood why Loyola wasn’t competitive with the University of Chicago and Northwestern, as both schools gave $32,000 stipends to their graduate student workers.
Currently, Loyola offers its graduate student workers stipends starting at $18,000 with a maxim of $26,000, according to the university’s website. Regan said the university is attempting to increase the stipends in next year’s budget.
Additional graduate programs are also in Loyola’s near future, Magdzriarz said. He said the academic deans created a document called “The Greater Good” outlining a “multi-year academic vision for Loyola,” which includes the implementation of several new graduate programs predicted to increase graduate student enrollment.
“Faculty are developing programs that we believe our students, alumni and those in the community will find attractive,” Callahan said, emphasizing a focus on areas such as technological, analytical and health-related programs.
The Parkinson School for Health Sciences and Public Health, whose opening was announced February of this year, is also projected to increase graduate student enrollment. The graduate programs will “recapture” applicants who weren’t able to get into the Stritch School of Medicine, Magdziarz said.