Lacking Post Baccalaureate INCENTIVE: For State Governments, There Appears to Be Little Motivation to Invest in Graduate-School Education

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Lacking Post Baccalaureate INCENTIVE: For state governments, there appears to be little motivation to invest in graduate-school education

Despite the erosion of affirmative action programs increase in the number and representation level of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans have made steady gains in earning graduate and professional degrees.

Over the past five years alone, these populations have made significant strides in the attainment of master's, doctoral, and first professional degrees. At the master's level, African Americans alone have enjoyed an annual average increase of 9 percent, with Hispanics a close second at 8.6 percent. Growth in doctoral degree attainment has been experienced in the Native American population at an average annual rate of 11.5 percent, with Asian Americans close behind at 10.4 percent. Despite a seeming insensibility evidenced by rollbacks in affirmative action, the fact remains that minority graduate education plays a critical role in the continuing vitality of the U.S. economy and its educational system.

"I believe that the federal level there is more of an interest and more of an effort to get all people in the nation to participate in the success of the nation," says Jesse Lewis, Minority Graduate Education (MGE) Program, administered by the National Science Foundation.

In 1997, the U.S. invested $182 million in research and development (R&D), a major economic driver. Typically, a large portion of R&D is performed by graduate students. In fact, more than 50 percent of the country's basic research is performed at the graduate level with the same people going on to perform R&D in the ranks of industry. In addition, the country's colleges and universities rely upon graduate education programs to supply the people to fill their faculties. It is obviously in the national interest to ensure that the pool of postgraduate students is sufficient to supply both industry and the academy with the necessary talent to maintain the country's premier status in economic productivity.

With these national goals in mind, combined with the affirmative action retreat at the state level, the commitment of the federal government to graduate education remains pivotal. At the state level, declining support for affirmative action may negatively impact the likelihood of people of color pursuing graduate education. But another, less minority-specific factor may be at work as well.

According to the Association of American Universities, neither the states nor industry has exhibited strong motivation to support graduate education from an investment standpoint. Because recipients of graduate degrees are a mobile resource and can, therefore, choose opportunities that would not provide a return on investment for states and industry, a stronger investment incentive lies with the federal government.

"Its hard to get states and industry to fund basic graduate programs the way the federal government can and should,' says John Vaughn, executive vice president of the AAU. "It's a fact of how corporations have to use their money and how states have to use their money. But if the federalgovernment does it, it,s likely to redound to the benefit of the nationbroadly."

Concomitant with this lack of state support is continuing competition from the tight labor market for those who might otherwise enter graduate school, a market situation that has persisted over the past several years. This, in concert with some graduate schools' efforts to scale back their Ph.D. programs, may be responsible for the decline in graduate enrollment that occurred in 1996 -- the first decline in 10 years -- though at differing levels among disciplines.

"We tend to believe that there's a very, very high market for bachelor's degree recipients," says Peter Syverson, vice president for research for the Council of Graduate Schools. …