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An overview of the largest graduate degree programs at local colleges and universities confirms what Upstate New Yorkers already know: Students from all over the world flock to the Rochester area to advance their studies and careers.
Their presence is felt far and wide; they bolster the area’s intellectual cachet and keep the higher education sector humming along.
At Rochester Institute of Technology, the graduate degree program with the highest enrollment is the master’s degree in computer science at the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. The 30-credit program currently has roughly 450 students, 170 of whom belong to the most recent incoming class.
By country of origin, most of the students come from India, says Hans-Peter Bischof, graduate program coordinator and professor of computer science at RIT. American students are the second-largest cohort.
Full-time students typically complete the degree in three or four semesters, depending on whether they need to take bridge courses. Some students opt to pursue the degree part time, and some courses are offered online. Yet most of the instruction occurs face-to-face, Bischof says.
RIT’s master of science degree in computer science costs roughly $46,500, not including scholarships, financial aid or the cost of bridge courses.
A high job-placement rate and international awareness of the program have kept the degree in demand.
“I know of no (former) student who doesn’t have a job—and a good job,” Bischof says.
He adds: “I have (had) multiple siblings in my program.”
Bischof credits the size of the most recent incoming class—170 students compared to roughly 120 in the prior class—to the federal government rejecting fewer student visa applications.
Nationwide, international student enrollment is on an upswing.
According to the Institute of International Education in New York City, nearly 820,000 international students enrolled in U.S. higher education in the 2012-13 academic year, a 7 percent increase over the prior year and the seventh consecutive year when the ranks grew. With most of the growth driven by China and Saudi Arabia, there are now 40 percent more international students studying at U.S. schools than a decade ago.
At Nazareth College of Rochester, the most popular graduate program confers a doctor of physical therapy degree. The 121-credit program currently has 116 students, including six-year students who entered as freshmen, as well as advanced-standing students who have already earned bachelor’s degrees and come to the college for the program’s three-year professional phase.
Pursuing the three-year professional phase costs roughly $150,000, says Judith Baker, director of graduate and transfer admissions at Nazareth.
The program, open only to full-time students, uses various on-campus facilities for clinical instruction, including laboratories with equipment for hydrotherapy, rehabilitation and human movement analysis. Since 2004, Nazareth also has operated a physical therapy clinic on campus that allows students to treat patients under the supervision of full- and part-time faculty.
At SUNY College at Geneseo, the graduate program with the highest enrollment is for the master of science degree in reading and literacy, from birth through grade 12. The 36-credit program currently has 153 students enrolled.
Given that the program is clinically based, students work directly with children and adolescents to develop reading proficiencies. As part of the program’s capstone experience, students also take two semesters of an intensive practicum that involves working in a reading clinic for a Rochester-area school district.
The amount of time needed to earn the degree varies, says Susan Salmon, assistant professor of education and graduate program liaison at SUNY Geneseo’s Ella Cline Shear School of Education. Some people complete the program in one year. Online classes are available during summer sessions.
Recent graduates of the program have found teaching jobs to be scarce locally, prompting them to look elsewhere, Salmon says.
The cost of the degree depends on full-time or part-time status. Full-timers, defined as pursuing 12 or more credits, pay roughly $5,330 per semester if they are New York residents. Non-residents pay roughly $9,575 per semester.
The cost for part-time students is nearly $445 per credit hour for New York residents. Non-residents pay almost $800 per credit hour.
At SUNY College at Brockport, graduate-level programs in education that lead to initial or professional teacher certification have the highest enrollment. New York state residents pay roughly $450 per credit to study in one of the programs, which range from 30 to 48 credits.
The 229 students who were matriculated in the programs last fall either have initial certification but are now pursuing a master of science degree in education to become professionally certified or they are enrolled for initial certification that involves graduate-level course work but does not confer a graduate degree or they are pursuing a 48-credit inclusive master’s program that leads to both initial and professional certification.
“For all of those (three) categories, we have course work that is online,” says James Spiller, assistant provost for research and scholarship and dean of the graduate school at SUNY Brockport. However, students who are not initially certified must take courses that involve “close mentorship by faculty, including those placements in schools and … teaching practicums in schools,” he adds.
While the number of students seeking advanced degrees has risen in recent years at U.S. colleges and universities, enrollment in graduate-level education programs has trailed off nationwide, Spiller says. Likewise, SUNY Brockport has seen a decline over the past decade.
“The thing that’s hard to measure but is part of the mix of explanation is that the professional environment for teachers is undergoing a lot of disruption and change right now,” Spiller says.
He adds: “Many teachers are kind of battered about in the political debate as obstructionists and (part of) self-interested interest groups that are getting in the way of student improvement. So there’s a lot of political controversy, and I think that it’s shining a hot spotlight. And I think a lot of people … are understandably wary about stepping into that spotlight.”
Competition for students has begun heating up among local graduate schools.
“So if we have rebound in our school systems in the state and if there is a clearing through (teacher) retirements, which I think is coming, I think we’ll see to some extent a rebound in education (enrollments) at the graduate level,” Spiller says. “But it’s still going to be tight for universities.”
Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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