Higher Demand, Limited Supply at Cal State University East Bay 

More people are applying to graduate school — but fewer are being enrolled.

More prospective students are applying to California State University East Bay's graduate programs at a time when scarce resources are forcing the university to turn more applicants away.

The dual specter of continued cuts to higher education at the state level, along with a national economic recession that has created an uncertain job marketplace, has created a problem for the university: higher demand, but limited supply. On top of this, key graduate programs have seen both significant spikes in applications and enrollment, as well as sharp declines.

Between the 2007 and 2010 school years, overall university applications have increased by 12 percent from 3,568 in 2007 to 4,112 in 2010, while the number of students admitted has dropped by about 10 percent and enrollment has declined by 14 percent (1,519 to 1,335 respectively). There was an increasing trend in admittance and enrollment numbers until 2008, when the consequences of the recession took impact.

Applications to grad school and the economy are inversely related to one another, wrote Donna Wiley, interim associate director of Cal State East Bay's Office of Academic Programs and Graduate Studies, in an e-mail. She mentioned that during the dot-com crash around 2001, there was a dramatic increase in the number of applicants to the university's MBA (Business Administration) program.

"People are trying to increase their skills to become more marketable," Wiley wrote, "and/or possibly change fields if their profession is no longer in demand."

Meanwhile, economic turbulence also has the side effect of reducing the available funding to education institutions. With at least $500 million in cuts slated for the CSU system, and potentially $1 billion if a number of taxes aren't extended past the fiscal year, the university is bracing for more damaging cuts.

"As you can imagine, cuts of this magnitude will be devastating," Wiley wrote. The university has been tackling a $4.2 billion budget deficit in years past and had to cap its enrollment despite increased applications. Budget cuts have damaged graduate programs in a number of ways: Graduate class sections have been slashed; graduate adviser assigned time has been reduced; and the Concord campus will no longer be hosting cohorts for a number of graduate programs, including MBA students, according to Wiley.

Meanwhile, individual programs are seeing their share of ups and downs.

Surprisingly, the program that has seen the largest overall increase in four years has been Taxation, where both applications and enrollment have increased by nearly 300 percent — enrollment increased from 13 to 36, while applications rose from 31 to 95.

Most of this increase can be attributed to the program's use of the online classroom environment; a student can get a degree entirely online, which is a boon for working professionals, wrote Gary McBride, director of the Taxation program. For ten years, the Taxation program has had an online presence, but starting in the fall of 2009, all exams took place online and there were no more physical classes.

"This has been accomplished without any additional direct advertising," McBride wrote of the increase in applicants.

The coveted MBA program, the university's largest master's program, has seen a staggering downward trend since 2007, with a 22 percent drop in applications (809 to 631) and 53 percent decline in enrollment (269 to 124). Conversely, the Health Care Administration program saw applications increase by 115 percent, while enrollment increased by about 110 percent.

The Education program has also taken a significant hit in those same years, with applications declining by 54 percent and enrollment dropping by 58 percent.

A recent report by the Council of Graduate Schools found that nationally, grad schools were seeing higher application rates as a result of the economic recession, and the most popularly enrolled programs for first-year students were Education, Business, and Engineering, generally.

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