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Universities increasingly turn to graduate programs to balance their books

The St. Thomas University School of Law. Like many other institutions, the university has expanded its graduate enrollment.

The St. Thomas University School of Law. Like many other institutions, the university has expanded its graduate enrollment.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Angie Perez and some of her classmates are studying together in a covered plaza that connects a classroom building with the law library at St. Thomas University.

It’s a sunny afternoon beneath a clear blue sky, and they appear surprisingly upbeat considering they’re slogging through the notoriously tough first year of law school.

Don’t be fooled, Perez said.

“We may look like we’re not stressing, but inside it’s, ‘Oh, my god.’”

In addition to the academic demands, she and her friends acknowledged, they’re concerned about the cost of their graduate educations, the debt they may accumulate to pay for it and whether jobs will be available at the other end.

But many said they didn’t think they had much of a choice.

“Nowadays everyone’s going to graduate school,” said Ernesto Rivero, a second-year law student sitting nearby, who hopes to become an agent for artists, actors and musicians. “Most of my close friends are in law school or medical school. That’s what they tell you to do.”

As the number of undergraduates steadily declines in seeming direct proportion to rising costs, debt and the many other obstacles faced by college students, graduate enrollment is quietly on the upswing. It’s being driven by the better job prospects and higher salaries people think it will bring them — and by a conscious strategy among universities like this one to add graduate programs that produce much-needed revenue.

Nowadays everyone’s going to graduate school. … That’s what they tell you to do.
Ernesto Rivero, a second-year law student at St. Thomas University

While undergraduates get much of the attention, students who pursued graduate and professional degrees now account for 40 percent of the notorious $1.5 trillion worth of outstanding national student loan debt, the College Board reports; each owes three times more, on average, than an undergraduate, according to the Urban Institute.

Ernesto Rivero, a second-year law student at St. Thomas University. “Nowadays everyone’s going to graduate school,” Rivero says. “That’s what they tell you to do.”

Ernesto Rivero, a second-year law student at St. Thomas University. “Nowadays everyone’s going to graduate school,” Rivero says. “That’s what they tell you to do.”

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