Friday, October 23, 2009

Why Yes, Eva Pell Did Have Her Head in the Sand

It was reported last December that graduate student applications were down at Penn State despite the bad economy and the fact that grad school enrollment has historically tended to be counter cyclical. At the time, Dean of the Graduate School Eva Pell pooh-poohed the notion that anything was amiss and guessed that
...a better test of the hypothesis will come when we see what applications look like this January when the bulk of applications arrive for 2009-10[.]
And sure enough come January the application numbers looked pretty damn good. Here's what Graham told the Board of Trustees that month.
Graduate applications are up 6.4 percent compared to last year. International graduate applications are up 13 percent...
Why the turn around? My guess is that a front page story in the New York Times on November 20, 2008 about cloning a woolly mammoth might have had something to do with it. Penn State professors Web Miller and Stephen Schuster had just published a paper in Nature about their efforts to sequence woolly mammoth DNA and they were ready to speculate to the times about bringing one of the hairy beasts back to life.

Did The Old Main Propaganda Shop help to plant this story in the Times in the hopes of boosting interest in Penn State amongst potential grad students? That's my suspicion. Did the story actually help to increase grad school enrollment? Well, not so much.

Yesterday the Collegian reported that Eva Pell did indeed have her head in the sand last December.
Enrollment data shows graduate student enrollment has dropped by 1,795 students since 2003, Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School Eva Pell said in a presentation. This year, 9,088 students are enrolled in the graduate school.

"It will not be healthy if it drops too much more," Pell said.

Pell explained that the decrease can be attributed to the instability of the economy and faculty insecurity about funding for doctoral students.

She said many people expected graduate school enrollment to increase once the economy took a turn for the worse a few years ago, but that has not proven true in Penn State's case.
See added cryptically,
"Graduate education is not top-down, it's bottom-up," Pell said. "Some of these are trends that will turn around in time."
I'm not sure what she means about it not being top-down, but my guess is that that is code for don't blame me.  She attributed the decline to
...the instability of the economy and faculty insecurity about funding for doctoral students.
Insecurity about funding?  The Penn State Propaganda Portal announced today that external funding at the University was up this year by $30.5 million over last year.

Oh well, I wonder if the decline in grad enrollment had anything to do with her decision to take a job at the Smithsonian starting next year.

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