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Grad Focus

Pat neff

Rod Aydelotte / Waco Tribune-Herald

Baylor University officials say the administration's steady investment in scholarships and new degrees have helped the university grow its graduate school population. Baylor's graduate student population increased from 1,440 to 1,470 between fall 2011 and fall 2012, a 2 percent rise. From 2010 to 2011, the increase was 0.8 percent.

Though that increase was modest, it still bucked a national trend of universities' total graduate enrollment dropping by 1.7 percent, despite graduate admissions applications climbing by 4.3 percent, according to a study by the Council of Graduate Schools.

Baylor graduate student Neil Schwarz works in the Exercise & Biomedical Nutrition lab with associate professor Dr. Darryn S. Willoughby and fellow doctoral student Mike Spillane. That study, released in fall 2012, compared enrollment data from 2010 and 2011.

But Baylor's graduate school gains have been more impressive during the past several years. The school's graduate enrollment has grown 21 percent since 2005, when Baylor began an aggressive push to expand its graduate program offerings as part of the Baylor 2012 strategic plan. The total number of graduate school applications grew 66 percent during that period. The figures do not include Baylor Law School or George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

University officials think Baylor has been immune to a decline in graduate school interest because it has not had to contend with budget cuts faced by many public universities. Larry Lyon, dean of Baylor's graduate school, said a lot of universities responded to the cuts by scaling back on scholarships and stipends for graduate students.

But Baylor maintained existing graduate scholarship endowments, as well as faculty teaching funds for graduate assistantships.

"What's happened to us is we've got a relative competitive advantage," Lyon said. "In other words, if a number of your competitors hold back and you hold steady, then you become more attractive to graduate students. That means we can grow our graduate program with the same amount of resources."

Lyon also noted that Baylor's graduate population is much smaller than its neighboring universities like the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. Thus, even despite tuition differences, Baylor needs less funding to offer scholarships. Adding programs

In addition, Baylor has continued adding new master's and doctoral degrees. In 2012, the school's board of regents approved creating a doctorate of philosophy in church music and a doctorate of musical arts, plus a joint master of public health administration/master of science in education degree and a master of business administration/master of divinity dual degree. In the fall 2012 semester, 205 graduate students were enrolled in joint degree programs, compared to 112 in fall 2008, according to Baylor figures.

"Because prospective students are looking for interdisciplinary opportunities, it really makes sense," said Denny Kramer, assistant dean of the graduate school.

Baylor executed its most rapid expansion of graduate program offerings in 2005, when it added nine new degrees and nine dual-degree programs as part of the former Baylor 2012 strategic plan. Most of the additions were in engineering fields, including master's programs in biomedical, mechanical, and electrical and computer engineering. Baylor's new strategic plan, Pro Futuris, again makes expanding graduate offerings a priority, but outlines more measured expansion into science, technology, engineering, and math fields, as well as health science and administration.

"The Baylor name, especially in the state of Texas, has had a good connotation for health care," Lyon said. "We're making a push there to build on that strength."

Baylor's health, human performance and recreation department has the second-highest graduate-student enrollment, with 92 students in fall 2011, behind only the executive MBA program, which had 109 students.

Darryn Willoughby, associate professor of exercise, biochemistry and molecular physiology, said most of the program's Ph.D. recipients go on to teach at a university or do health and nutritional research, though some graduate students go on to work as personal trainers, nutritionists or in physical rehabilitation.

"Our field, related to exercise physiology, exercise science, it's grown so much to allow it to get more specialized," Willoughby said. "In here, this lab is no different than any of the labs you'd see in the science building."

For example, last year Willoughby's graduate students worked on a study testing whether protein supplements could help slow the effects of muscle atrophy in patients who had to wear casts to recover from injuries. Lyon said the university hopes to soon develop a Ph.D. in health science research through the Hankamer School of Business, as well as a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering.

"A lot of (new degree offerings) stem from faculty interest," Kramer said. "I think the faculty begins to get a sense that there is a need within their field . . . (and says), 'How can we fill that need?'"