Increased enrollment benefits society
The School of Applied Sciences is the fastest growing school at the University of Mississippi. Enrollment for the 2010-11 academic year is up 20 percent over last year, with the school seeing growth in all of its departments. Professors believe the growing interest in the school's programs can be largely attributed to demand for professionals in the career fields that the programs support. Indeed, not only are more students enrolling and subsequently graduating, they are also getting jobs in their fields.
"Growth trends in our programs are very similar to national growth trends," said Linda Chitwood, dean of the School of Applied Sciences. "These professional programs are relevant and offer opportunities for professional engagement."
The school houses the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management, the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management, the Department of Legal Studies, the Department of Social Work, the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies and the National Food Service Management Institute.
Together, the programs offer professional preparation that integrates academic study, clinical training, creative research, service learning and community outreach. The aim of the school is to develop leaders whose professional endeavors will improve overall health and well-being, Chitwood said.
Lennette Ivy, interim chair and assistant professor of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, said the growth in her department can be attributed at least in part to demand for professionals in the field.
"The professions of speech-language pathology and audiology have been ranked among the top 30 fastest growing occupations by the Bureau of Labor Statistics," Ivy said. "Subsequently, 100 percent of our students in the graduate program find employment. There are a variety of work sites that are appealing, [including] public and private schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, short-term and long-term care facilities, and community speech and hearing clinics to name a few."
Stephen Mallory, interim chair and professor of Legal Studies, attributed the rise in criminal justice students to the dedicated faculty at Ole Miss, some of whom have more than 20 years of experience. Faculty members play an important role in student recruiting, he said. The increased popularity of the criminal justice career field also plays a role.
"More and more students are seeking careers in criminal justice, due, in part, to television crime shows and movies," Mallory said. "This media attention has people excited about the field."
Another growing area of interest among students is in the allied health professions, mirroring national trends, said Mark Loftin, chair and professor of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management.
Students are choosing exercise science degrees over biology, for example, because biology is more targeted to cellular study, whereas exercise science works with the whole body, Loftin explained.
"The growth has been going on for over a decade," he said. "We've seen more rapid growth than many other fields."
UM is not the only beneficiary of the increased enrollment numbers. Carol Minor Boyd, chair and professor of Social Work, said the increased number of graduates from her department is meeting the growing demands of society.
"More and more individuals are having social problems that require the intervention of a social worker," Boyd said, adding that students are choosing the social work profession because jobs are available in the field. "Social workers assist individuals, families, groups, communities and organizations in a variety of ways. Social workers work in mental health and health care, in child welfare and aging, in management and in clinical settings. They work in hospitals, schools, businesses, public agencies, police departments, private practices and many other interesting workplaces. We are counselors, managers, therapists, community organizers, educators and researchers."
The School of Applied Sciences also experienced surges in enrollment in 2001, just after it was established, and again when the criminal justice undergraduate program and new graduate programs in social work, criminal justice, and food and nutrition services were added. According to Chitwood, the relevance of the school's professional degree programs and the quality of the faculty have helped the school to sustain the growth during its 10-year history.
Of course, increased enrollment comes with challenges as well.
"As a whole, UM has outgrown its facilities," Chitwood said, citing a university-wide shortage of classrooms, teaching laboratories and research laboratories. "As a result, we are exploring new delivery methods, which will support professional development and academic rigor. As a professional school, we are challenged to find the right mix between nontraditional delivery and face-to-face development of professionalism."
Still, the benefits of educating and graduating more students far outweigh the inherent challenges.
"The benefits of this increased enrollment are tremendous," Chitwood said. "We are producing more professionals who are prepared to meet society's health care and community challenges."