Do You Know Your Markets for Master’s Programs?

October 20, 2022

Enrollment in Master’s Programs is Up

According to program enrollment data provided to Gray by the National Student Clearinghouse, total enrollment in master’s programs grew 4% year-over-year from Spring 2021 to Spring 2022. That’s the good news.

But delving a little deeper below the surface, the data is more nuanced. Of the 10 programs with the highest enrollment growth (in units), the top four were tech-related, and the rest were in healthcare and education.

Masters Programs with Largest Enrollment Gains in the US

Source: Gray Associates Program Enrollment Dashboard. Data provided by National Student Clearinghouse for total spring student enrollment by program.

On the other hand, some perennial favorites, such as MBA and MSN programs, experienced enrollment declines, as did other types of nursing, healthcare, and education programs.

Masters Programs with the Largest Enrollment Declines in the US

Source: Gray Associates Program Enrollment Dashboard. Data provided by National Student Clearinghouse for total spring student enrollment by program.

Given this variation in enrollment trends across programs, how can institutions ensure that they are investing resources in the right master’s programs? How can they know which programs will bring new enrollments, and which ones won’t?

Program Preferences Differ by Region and State

One way to answer this question is to look beyond national trends and dig into data specific to your market. Program preferences, like favorite football teams and foods, often differ across regions and states. Just how much do these preferences differ? Let’s take a look.

In the spirit of the upcoming midterm elections, we decided to examine program enrollment trends in so-called “swing” states. These states are known as battlegrounds for politicians – but what are students in these states looking for when it comes to academic programs? What we found was that program preferences, like voting patterns, are varied, although we did see a few commonalities as well.

Masters Programs with the Largest Enrollment Growth (Units) by state

Business and counseling programs are trending upward among Wisconsin students, whereas two education programs are among the top five growth programs among Colorado students. Computer and information science programs showed strong growth among Ohio students. Computer science was also the largest growing master’s program among Nevada students, but students in this state are also showing growing interest in “helping” programs such as social work, physician assistant, nursing education, and public health. Likewise, students in Florida are showing a growing interest in counseling programs, accounting for three of the top five growth programs in the state (with clinical psychology in the mix as well).

As for commonalities, public health and epidemiology programs are showing enrollment growth across most of the states we examined. The widespread impact of the pandemic appears to have piqued the interest of students across the country.

Knowing Program Enrollment Trends is Vital

While this blog provides only a cursory view of program enrollment trends, it demonstrates the importance of looking beyond national trends to truly understand what is happening in the geographic markets you serve. Not all programs appeal to all students, but understanding what students in your market are looking for can help ensure the continued vitality of your graduate program portfolio.

Elaine Rowles

Principal

Elaine works with Gray’s education clients on strategic planning projects, program portfolio evaluations, program feasibility studies, price benchmarking, and research-intensive custom project work. She has performed in-depth analyses of existing programs and institutions, as well as assessed demand and employment opportunities for new and emerging programs.

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