On Wednesday, October 23 Marist College held a Graduate School Forum where fifty graduate school representatives congregated in the new Student Center Multipurpose Room. For three hours Marist students were invited to speak with the representatives to help gain valuable insight into the graduate school application process and programs. Pat Taylor – the head Graduate School and Fellowship Advisor for Marist College – made clear of what a great opportunity this was for any student contemplating further education.
And yet, no one came.
According to Taylor, this year’s attendance was the lowest the college had seen in many years. She even proceeded to e-mail a number of students after the event, inquiring as to why the Grad Forum turnout was so remarkably scarce. “If you could just take a minute,” she wrote, “shoot me a note and let me know what factors made you decide NOT to attend.”
After graduating from an undergraduate program students are essentially faced with just two, albeit momentous, choices to define their future: continue onto graduate school, or enter directly into the professional field. Marist intends to prepare their students for either path. That being said, this semester’s weak showing at the on-campus Grad Forum begs the question of whether Marist currently places more emphasis on setting up students for the professional path, with the impetus to attend graduate school waning.
Greg Cannon, Chief Public Affairs Officer at Marist College, believes that this low attendance could merely be a coincidence. “Seeing that 95.2 percent of 2012 respondents are either working or in graduate school,” he said, “I would think that there tends to be a core group of students who plan to attend graduate school no matter what and another group that has no immediate plans to do so.”
It’s the ‘in-betweeners’ – the students who are unsure of their future paths until right before graduation – who create such a fluctuation in numbers, Cannon said. Their decisions, then, are ultimately made by factors such as the economy.
“They ultimately base their decision on the strength of the job market in their chosen field upon graduation,” he said.
Six months after the most recent senior class at Marist has graduated, data is accumulated to give insight into the numbers of students pursuing graduate studies. These numbers, compared in ten-year increments, showed that the greatest number of Marist students went on to graduate school in 2008. In contrast, the year 2011 showed the least amount of students who choice the path of academia.
Cannon speculates that the high 2008 number was perhaps due to that year’s financial crisis, which stymied many a college student from finding a full-time, salary-based job right after graduation. The 2011 record, then, could very well be a sign of an improving economy, where students are able to use the skills they acquired from Marist to immediately enter the job field.
Jeanne M. Eschbach, the Assistant Dean at the School of Global and Professional Programs, agrees with Cannon’s speculation. The School of Global and Professional Programs consists of adults, a majority of whom are already employed. A great deal of the courses that this particular school provides focus on skills needed in the workplace.
“For instance, we have developed a leadership concentration in our program that focuses on leadership skills needed in the workplace. Students of all walks of life find these skills very valuable, but Marist is able to provide a lot of these skills in undergraduate courses,” she said. “So if you’ve got the skills, and your job market is hot…many students are leaping in immediately and bypassing graduate programs.”
Kelley Sullivan, a 2013 Marist graduate, chose to attend graduate school at Illinois State University where she is working to expand on her knowledge of public relations and mass communication. Graduate school was always the route that she wanted to take, she said, and thus far it has been the right choice for her.
“Marist really helped prepare me for either scenario,” she said. “Like, we all graduate with internship experience, knowledge of the professional field, and the curiosity to continue learning in school. It really just depends on the student and specific circumstances.”
And, perhaps, the Graduate School Forum attendance really was a coincidence. In a recent and ongoing Facebook poll given to willingly participating Marist juniors and seniors, 59 percent said they had plans to attend a graduate school program, and 41 percent said they would forgo further education. Whether these numbers continue to stay on this trend upward or change due to unforeseen circumstances in the next few months remains to be seen; clearly, it is all a matter of the situation, and Marist College attempts to prepare their students for whatever path they choose to follow.