Is the 1990s decline in grad-school interest reversing?

Results from the 2003 UCAR survey on graduate student enrollment

by Gabor Vali, University of Wyoming, and Rick Anthes, UCAR president

As part of UCAR’s effort to assist member institutions with their educational efforts as well as with their research activities, we conducted our third enrollment survey of UCAR member institutions in March 2003. With this addition of the last two years’ data, the survey now spans the academic years 1995–96 to 2002–03.

The most significant finding of the previous surveys was a steady decline of 8% per year in the number of students applying to graduate programs. In an article in the January 2002 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), we explored concerns raised by that fact and the implied possibility that less-qualified students were entering the programs. The article emphasized that the growing horizons of atmospheric and related sciences need a strengthened population of graduate students. That article prompted a comment by Roger Pielke, Jr. (University of Colorado) in the February 2003 issue of BAMS arguing that employment projections should be an important part of the assessment of how many graduate students are needed. Further discussion will appear in a forthcoming issue of BAMS.

All 66 UCAR member institutions were invited to send data in the most recent survey, and 30 responded. Many thanks to these institutions! Fourteen schools have participated in all three surveys to date, and 46 schools have participated in at least one survey.

Results from the 2003 survey show that the downward trend in applications has reversed over the last two years (see Figure 1). Even though the rise is small, this is good news. Although we’d like to think that part of this upturn in applications is due to our community focus on the issue, the major reason may be a tight job market. Figure 1 includes a breakdown of application numbers by school size, dividing the overall average of 444 entering students per year into four nearly equal groups.

There has been little change from survey to survey in the numbers of students admitted to programs and the numbers entering the programs. Unlike applications, these numbers appear to be controlled more by the sizes of departments and their research budgets. Figure 2 displays the average percentages of applications that result in admissions and students entering the programs. These percentages decreased over the last two years as application numbers have increased, resulting in stable rates of admissions and entrances.

In all, the task of bringing a capable and diverse student population into the atmospheric and related sciences has become a little easier over the last two years—but, of course, that is no assurance for how it will go in years to come.

Figure 1. Trends in number of applications for atmospheric and related science programs at UCAR member institutions. The graph includes the overall sample (full line), four groups of schools sorted by size (broken lines), and the 14 institutions with complete application records over the eight years. The numbers included in the legend show the yearly average numbers of applications for that group.

Figure 2. Variations in the fraction of applications that result in admissions and in students entering the programs.



Also in this issue...

The next phase of remote sensing

Spinning up a new GLOBE structure

Affairs of the atmosphere

The road to Doppler data

Geomagnetic storms may spur thermospheric vortices

Mammoth meeting bridges the world of geoscience

Just deserts

President’s Corner: Crossing the valleys of death and lost opportunities: Toward an Earth Information System

Web Watch

UCAR Community Calendar

Governance Update

Science Bit