Grad School Growth

November 30, 2002


This fall's class of graduate students, spurred by the faltering U.S. economy and improved financial packages, is the largest and most diverse in Duke history, Graduate School officials told Duke's trustees in October. The class of 683 graduate students tops--by seventeen--the previous record enrollment set twelve years ago, associate dean of the Graduate School Jacqueline Looney told members of the trustees' Student Affairs Committee. Overall enrollment in all divisions of the graduate school is now at a record 2,446.

The percentage of foreign graduate students, 38 percent, is at an all-time high. The percentage of U.S. minority students, 14 percent, also set a record. That combination of foreign students and U.S. minorities, at 52 percent, is for the first time greater than the U.S. "majority" matriculants.

" The numbers are truly dramatic," says Lewis Siegel, dean of the Graduate School, "but what is truly remarkable is that this class represents either the record or second-largest class in divisions across the board."

The 430 Ph.D. students easily bests last year's record of 402. The Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences enrolled twenty-eight doctoral students in August, the school's largest-ever class. The Fuqua School of Business tied its largest class with fifteen; the medical school's seventy-nine Ph.D. students and the Pratt School of Engineering's sixty-five Ph.D. students were the schools' second-largest classes ever.

Arts & Sciences enrolled 244 doctoral students, a figure not approached since the early 1990s, Siegel says. Of these, 149 were in the humanities and social sciences and ninety-five--the second-largest class ever--in the natural sciences.

While the 6,642 applications for graduate school at Duke did not set a record, the university was able to be more selective, offering admission to only 21 percent of applicants, Siegel says. Of those offered admission, a record 45 percent matriculated to Duke.

With record or near-record Ph.D. classes for the second straight year in all of the schools, there is substantial pressure on the graduate-student support budgets, especially in the humanities and social sciences. As a result, Arts & Sciences departments, nearly all of which are committed to five or six years of support, face serious consequences. "Budgets must be balanced or we could face small or no class sizes in deficit departments by fall 2004," says Siegel. "This could create a population problem in some departments."

Rob Saunders, a graduate student in physics and president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, says he is concerned about the strain on existing facilities. "The university does not currently offer sufficient services in transportation, child care, housing, and social space for the entire graduate and professional student population."

Having a larger number of students only exacerbates this problem. "Having more students is an opportunity because it means that we have the numbers to conduct research in exciting areas," says Saunders. "But there certainly is the worry that our already overstretched resources will be insufficient for a larger population."

The Graduate School, which is currently operating at a deficit after years of surplus, is studying ways to address the budgetary and facilities challenges posed by larger graduate classes. "We can't keep taking in this number of students in areas dependent primarily on university, as opposed to external support," Siegel says.