Challenges in Graduate Education

May 27, 2021 by

There is a growing demand for qualified people in areas such as health and technology. It would be reasonable to expect that this would mean that graduate education would be in great demand. This is not the case and there are indications that graduate education is facing a real crisis (Bell, 2015). There has been a decline in applications for courses.  In 2017, only 1/3 of institutions met their application enrolment targets. Another issue is that there is a lack of diversity. The graduate education system should provide students with the skills required for the economy and key services (DePauw et al, 2019). The problems facing the sector should be addressed for the future of our nation.

Challenges Facing Graduate Education

There are several structural and cultural issues in Higher Education.

  • The cost of graduate education is very high in the United States when compared to elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe. This means that many minorities or certain socio-economic groups are not able to apply for graduate programs (Farrigan, 2020).
  • Many financial institutions are facing financial problems. It is estimated that some 70% of institutions in higher education have budgetary issues. This is impacting their ability to deliver programs and student supports.
  • Many states have reduced their funding to public institutions and community colleges. This means that many graduate programs are struggling to meet students’ expectations and support their development.
  • The funding shortfall is contributing to a decline in the rankings of American universities. Increasingly European and Chinese colleges are securing higher scores in international surveys of higher education.  This is indicative of the decline in standards relative to America’s competitors.
  • There is an increasing number of non-traditional students, often working and older, who are returning to graduate education. It has proven a challenge for many higher education institutions to meet their educational needs and design programs that better support their learning.
  • There has been a decline in international students who are applying for courses. In 2000 America attracted 40% of all international students but this had fallen to 20% by 2015. The sector is no longer as attractive to international students, which has implications for its funding (De Pauw, et al, 2019; Shih, 2017).
  • Problems at the undergraduate and high school level, such as high drop-out rates amount to fewer applicants even when the general population is still growing.
  • The achievement gap in high schools means that there are racial disparities in Higher Education. Asian and White Americans are more likely to enroll in graduate education than African-Americans’ and Latinos (Bell, 2015).
  • There is a high attrition rate in many programs. It is believed that some Ph.D. programs have a dropout rate of over 40%. This is too high and may deter some students from applying.
  • There is some evidence that many graduate programs are not preparing students for the world of work, especially for non-academic roles. This is contributing to the drop in applications to the Graduate Education sector (Bell, 2015).

Preventing a Crisis?

It is essential to consider implementing changes at all levels of an institution and its culture. Incremental changes are not enough, and a fundamental transformation is required to address the problems facing graduate education. Higher education institutions should better understand their students, their motivations and needs to be increasingly student centric. A greater understanding of the needs of international and non-traditional students and efforts made to make the faculty more diverse. Then it is central to clarify non-academic career paths and to give students the skills required in the post pandemic economy.  Colleges and universities should be creative and develop, for example, graduate application workshops that support first generation applicants such as that provided by San Francisco University. If higher education does not recognize the challenges that they face and develop the necessary solutions, they could face a financial crisis and even campus closure.


How do you think that your institution can make graduate education more relevant to meet the real-world needs of students? Start by giving two examples.


Graduate Education; Higher Education, Challenges; Graduate Education Challenges.


Bell, Nathan, Wendler, Cathy; Bridgeman, Brent, Cline, Fred, Millet, Catherine and McAllister, Patricia. (2015). The Path Forward: The Future of Graduate Education in the United States. Retrieved from:

DePauw, Karen, Moran, James, Roth, Don and Russel, William. (2019). Graduate  Education and the  Public Good. Council of Graduate Schools. Retrieved from:

Farrigan, Tracey (2020, November 02). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Educational Attainment Persist in Rural America. USDA. Retrieved from:

Shih, K. (2017). Do international students crowd-out or cross-subsidize Americans in higher education? Journal of Public Economics., 156, 170-184, retrieved from:

Krieger, Kathy.  (2020, March 24). Graduate Studies and Campus Closures. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from:

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