grad students

Students walking to class between Billeaud Hall and Edith Garland Dupré Library.

Despite a steady decrease in overall enrollment, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s graduate program has only grown in the past years.

According to getdata.louisiana.edu, UL Lafayette’s graduate program has grown 53% to include 2,330 students since the fall 2016 semester, while total enrollment at the university has decreased by 584 students.

UL Lafayette’s Dean of Graduate School Mary Farmer-Kaiser, Ph.D., explained what the university is doing to encourage that growth. Farmer-Kaiser said their work towards making classes more available was one of the main reasons for the program’s growth.

“So, our MBA program is one where we’ve always had a very strong enrollment, but we took it online,” Farmer-Kaiser said. “The vast majority of our increase has come from MBA enrollment, online enrollment, part-time enrollment, so people who are working professionals being able to pursue graduate studies alongside their careers.”

Farmer-Kaiser later added that the university began offering graduate classes in an “executive model,” in which students would have class sessions on Friday and Saturday as opposed to the more traditional two to three weekday sessions.

In addition to the executive model and online classes, UL Lafayette also offers night classes and a hybrid of online and in-person classes to appeal to those “working professionals.”

“You’re never gonna get a 14% increase (in the previous year) by adding programs,” Farmer-Kaiser said. “It’s gonna be by building on the strengths you already have and improving access to more people.”

The university has added several other degree programs in recent years, the most recent of which being a Ph.D. in Earth and Energy sciences.

“(Adding a graduate program) is not something that we take lightly,” Farmer-Kaiser said. “It is something that has to be approved by both the UL system and the Board of Regents, so it’s not something that happens quickly. Our Ph.D. program in Earth and Energy science has been in the works for over five years.”

Farmer-Kaiser went on to describe how UL Lafayette’s loss of undergraduate enrollment has impacted its graduate enrollment. Not only do undergraduate fees help fund the program, but many of UL Lafayette’s graduate students got their bachelor’s degree from the university.

In fact, the university couldn’t increase its stipends for graduate students this semester because of the loss of undergraduate enrollment, according to Farmer-Kaiser.

One graduate student in the history department, Christine Savoie, said she was not surprised that the program had grown, adding that more and more jobs are looking for experience beyond just a bachelor’s degree.

Savoie got her bachelor’s degree in history and political science from UL Lafayette and is now pursuing her master’s in public history. She went on to describe how her department has encouraged her in her field and prepared her for the job market.

“I know for certain I’ve learned more time management skills with it,” Savoie said. “And it’s not only time management to be able to make up the work, but also improving communication between your teachers to let them know what’s going on with your life.

“Because the teachers, they really do care about you. They want to see you succeed, they want you to get your diploma, but it’s all about communication, time management with them.”

Dean Farmer-Kaiser later added what the graduate program contributes to the university as a whole, saying the program helps with faculty retention and the university’s ability to conduct research in all departments.

“Understanding how what we do on the university campus can help us better understand the world we live in, and particularly at a local level, at a state level, is really important,” Farmer-Kaiser said.

“And you don't always get at that just through your undergraduate teaching courses. It’s about getting out into the field and figuring out how (for example) climate change is impacting coastal areas, those kinds of things.”

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