Graduate school program trends continue shifting

February 5, 2010
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Aquinas College’s new assistant provost of graduate and professional studies is undertaking a review of master’s programs at the private, Catholic institution in Grand Rapids.

Nanette Clatterbuck, appointed to the post as of January, said she is gathering information about Aquinas’ graduate programs as well as student, community and business needs as she considers whether to suggest any changes.

“It is an exciting time, and we do have some ideas,” Clatterbuck said.

Familiar to the local business community, Aquinas’ master’s degree in management program has seen a drop in enrollment from a peak of 400 to 200 or fewer, Clatterbuck said.

“I’m trying to wrap my arms around why there is declining enrollment,” she said. “There are various theories out there. Certainly in our education program, we’ve seen a drop, but all teacher prep institutions in Michigan are seeing drops, particularly in their continuing education, master’s programs.”

Grand Valley State University Vice Provost Lynn Blue said that while overall, total graduate credit hours are up 4 percent this year, “the last couple of years, the master’s degree in education has really been taking some hits.” She said financially strapped school districts are cutting back on paying for continuing education in union contracts.

James Schultz, Ph.D., director of Western Michigan University’s Grand Rapids campus, echoed Blue’s observations.

“Our Ph.D. program in educational leadership is as large as it’s ever been,” said Schultz, noting that WMU offers only graduate programs at its two Grand Rapids locations. “We’re the only ones that have the Ph.D. in education leadership in town. We’ve got people driving in from all over.”

WMU’s local grad students number 1,446 this semester, the highest level since 2005, Schultz said.

At the same time, however, some master’s degree programs are drawing fewer students, he said. For example, as the baby boomer generation clings to its jobs in the recession, there has been less demand for master’s in education programs, Schultz said. But he anticipates that over the next three or five years, retirement will kick in for baby boomer teachers, recent graduates will take their places and start looking toward master’s programs as a way to boost their incomes.

Clatterbuck said her to-do list includes developing recruitment and retention plans for all graduate programs at Aquinas.

“I thought it would be best to begin by gathering my data and try to make some sense out of it before I just jump in,” she said. “I don’t want to make any premature decisions.”

College officials have noted that Aquinas is working on lining up the approvals necessary to begin a new program: a master’s degree in sustainable business.

“I really am interested in partnerships — finding out what the community needs,” Clatterbuck added. “I think the needs in Grand Rapids are changing fairly rapidly. I want to assess what those needs are and even how we deliver our classes.”

Aquinas Provost Chad Gunnoe said an administrator’s retirement prompted reorganization in the college’s administrative structure.

“In some ways, it’s a response to the current economic climate,” Gunnoe said. “We’re in a scenario where some costs have gone up and revenue declined.”

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