USM Graduate Education Continues Upward Enrollment Trend;   Online Programs Popular with New Students

Published 4:23 pm Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Enrollment in graduate programs at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has enjoyed consecutive years of increased numbers, with a nearly 35 percent jump in students choosing USM for graduate degree programs since the fall 2020 semester.

In the fall of 2020, enrollment of graduate students in both in-person and online programming increased 24.2 percent from the previous fall semester; and then up 8.9 percent in the fall 2021 semester for a total of nearly 900 new graduate students in just two years. USM’s current graduate student enrolment is approximately 3,450 students.

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Dr. Karen Coats, associate provost and dean of the USM Graduate School, attributes the increase in part to factors such as the quality and accessibility of the university’s online programming and those associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, including the waiving of standardized test score requirements and the raising of caps on certain online programs, allowing acceptance of more students.

Changes in employment status for many people, also a result of the impact of the pandemic, may have inspired decisions to return to graduate school. “We assume some people decided to return to graduate school because of changes in employment status due to the pandemic, but those data are anecdotal,” Dr. Coats said.

Certain online programs grew at a remarkable rate, Dr. Coats further noted.

“Working professionals are often unable to pursue a graduate degree because traditional, face-to-face programs conflict with their job responsibilities, or they may live and work in a distant location,” she explained. “Online programs alleviate these prohibitive conflicts and open up options for graduate study.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an increase in median earnings is directly correlated with increased educational level and indirectly correlated with unemployment rates. Moreover, many of today’s jobs require specialized or advanced knowledge or skillsets. With these factors in mind, Dr. Coats believes earning a graduate degree clearly provides a competitive edge, and USM offers myriad opportunities for graduate study, including many online degree programs.

The increased enrollment in USM online graduate programs arguably shows many students at the university concur.

“We’ve seen enormous growth in our programs in the College of Education and Human Sciences. Higher Education Administration and Educational Administration (P-12) Ed.D. programs increased by 58 percent and 240 percent, respectively, from fall 2019 to fall 2021, and the Master of Library and Information Sciences (MLIS) (including licensure), our largest program at 305 students, grew by 70 percent. Likewise, the MBA program in the College of Business and Economic Development increased by 68 percent.”

Dr. Tom Hutchinson, dean of Online Learning and Enrollment at USM, believes this trend will continue.

“Our programs allow students to go to school around their schedules now while gaining the experience and education they’ll need to prosper later in their careers,” he said. “This flexibility is one of the many reasons our programs have become so popular. As the job market and technology continue to evolve, we expect to see the popularity of our online programs to grow with them.”

Karlie Herndon completed the MLIS program with a graduate certificate in Archives and Special Collections in May 2021. She found a job prior to graduation with the Department of Archives & Special Collections at the University of Mississippi.

Herndon said from day one, she felt welcomed and supported by both faculty and other students in the USM MLIS program.

“The coursework is a perfect blend of scaffolded instruction and challenging assignments, with everything from reference interviews to HTML coding to grant writing,” Herndon said. “The School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) British Studies course was incredible, and I would gladly take more online or study-abroad courses through SLIS in the future.”

For more information about graduate education at USM, visit the Graduate School website at or school websites to explore graduate degree opportunities.