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Environment school sees applicant rise

A recent surge in applications at the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences has administrators looking to the future with optimism.

Applications to the master's of environmental management program rose 15.9 percent this year after several years of decline. William Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School, said he hoped that would translate into a class of 90 to 100 students.

"I would like to see us have a class of 120 every year," he said. "We're not going to get there overnight. But that's what I'd like to get up to and level off."

Schlesinger, who took office last summer, said in the past, applications have not been nearly so promising, partly due to the booming economy of the late 1990s.

"People have said that one reason applications have been drifting down is that the economy was so good for the '90's and there were other opportunities for people rather than to go get a graduate degree," he said. "You could go work for a dot-com and get a huge salary, so why go to graduate school?"

With less jobs available, Schlesinger said he believes more people are willing to give graduate school a chance.

Cynthia Peters, director of enrollment services, also attributed the increase to a more visible, personal approach to the marketing process. Schlesinger said new recruiters for the school now travel across the country making presentations to possible applicants.

"I think there was a complacency here that the web was enough," he said. "But there's a lot to be said for the old-style, going out and meeting people.... I'm trying to get us away from this impersonal, web approach of advertising."

Although there are more applicants, Schlesinger said the selectivity rate of the Nicholas School will remain constant.

"It always pays to be more and more selective," he said, adding that the rate would not change significantly until the class size rises above 100. "What I'd really watch is of the people we admit, how many come here. That's a real sign of how attractive we are."

The school's acceptance rate is much higher than other schools across the University, however. In 1999-2000, for example, the Nicholas School admitted 89 percent of its applicants.

"One has to be careful when one applies the standards of selectivity because one might miss somebody who may not be a really good tester or may have had a bad year but has a passion for protecting the environment who would be a good addition to the community," Peters said.

Class size is important because much of the Nicholas School's budget comes from tuition revenue. The school currently faces a budget deficit of about $431,000 because the matriculating classes have been smaller than expected in the past.

"Roughly a third or so of our non-grant revenue comes from tuition of the master's program," Schlesinger said. "As that has been drifting down, it has been eroding a big chunk of the revenue, so this will hopefully turn that around."

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