The number of people applying to the nation's graduate schools spiked after the economy tanked in 2008, a new report by the Council of Graduate Schools shows.
The report, released today, says applications to graduate schools in the United States rose by 8.3 percent from the fall of 2008 to the fall of 2009, the last year studied by the council as part of its annual comprehensive examination of trends in postbaccalaureate education. By contrast, over the previous five years, from 2003 to 2008, the growth in applications to graduate schools had been relatively flat, rising by an average of less than 1 percent annually. Historically, applications to graduate schools generally have surged in recessions, as people who have trouble finding work have gone back to school to earn advanced degrees expected to help them in the job market.
Among those seeking to enter graduate school in 2009, the most popular fields were business, engineering, and the social and behavioral sciences. The area with the fastest growth in interest, however, was the health sciences, in which applications rose by 14.6 percent over the period studied.
The report shows that women reached a milestone in the 2008-9 academic year by, for the first time, accounting for a majority of doctorates awarded in the United States. Women had already accounted for solid majorities of degrees awarded at the associate, bachelor's, and master's levels.
Men appeared to regain some ground, however, in terms of their share of all graduate students. Reversing a long-term trend, men's total enrollment in graduate schools grew by a faster rate than enrollments of women from 2008 to 2009. Men's enrollments rose by 6.7 percent, and women's increased by 4.7 percent.
The share of graduate students who were women varied greatly by race, ethnicity, and citizenship status. For example, women accounted for about 71 percent of black U.S. students but just 42 percent of international students who enrolled in graduate schools for the first time in 2009.
Among other key findings, the annual report says:
•Minority representation in U.S. graduate schools continued to grow, rising from 28.3 percent of first-time domestic enrollment in 2008 to 29.1 percent in 2009.
•International students' share of first-time graduate enrollments dropped from 18 percent in 2008 to 16.5 percent in 2009.
•From 2008 to 2009, first-time graduate enrollment increased faster at the doctoral level than at the master's level, rising by 6.3 percent at the former and 5.1 percent at the latter. Nevertheless, about three-fourths of all graduate students enrolled in 2008-9 were at the master's level, and almost 90 percent of graduate degrees conferred that year were master's degrees.