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First-Time, Full-Time Graduate Student Enrollment in Science and Engineering Increases in 2006, Especially Among Foreign Students

NSF 08-302 | December 2007 | PDF format PDF  

by Julia Oliver[1]

After 2 years of decline, U.S. enrollment of foreign graduate students in science and engineering (S&E) fields increased in 2006. The increase was largely due to first-time, full-time enrollment of foreign students, which grew 16% over the 2005 level (table 1).[2] First-time, full-time enrollment of S&E graduate students with U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status rose by slightly more than 1%. Total enrollment of first-time, full-time S&E graduate students rose 6% over the 2005 level.

TABLE 1. Graduate enrollment in science and engineering fields, by citizenship, enrollment status, sex, and race/ethnicity, and S&E postdocs by citizenship: 1996–2006.

  Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

Total graduate student enrollment in S&E fields and the number of S&E postdoctoral appointees (postdocs) both rose in 2006, continuing multiyear trends. These and other observations are from the 2006 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, cosponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

S&E Graduate Student Enrollment

S&E graduate enrollment increased slightly in 2006 due to a rise in enrollment of both foreign students and of U.S. citizens and permanent residents (table 1). Foreign S&E graduate enrollment increased by 2% in 2006 after dropping in 2004 and 2005. Despite the increase in numbers in 2006, the percentage of foreign students among all S&E graduate students remained at the 2005 level (29%) and was down from 2003 (31%). Foreign enrollment has increased by 45% over the 10-year period beginning in 1996, whereas enrollment for U.S. citizens and permanent residents has increased by 8% over the same period. Enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents continued its rise in 2006, reaching a new peak (343,603), but the gains in numbers in 2004, 2005, and 2006 were much smaller than those in 2002 and 2003.

Field of Study

Graduate enrollment in 2006 declined in two of the nine major S&E fields: agricultural sciences and computer sciences (table 2). Enrollment in computer sciences dropped less than 1% between 2005 and 2006; since its 2002 peak, enrollment has dropped almost 14%. Engineering enrollment increased 2% after dropping the previous 2 years; all engineering subfields showed increases from 2005 to 2006 except for civil engineering, which declined about 2%. Of the fields of study with the largest graduate enrollments (10,000 or more), growth of 3.0% or more occurred in mathematical sciences (3.0%), the engineering subfield of mechanical engineering (3.1%), and in the social sciences subfield of other social sciences (7.2%).

TABLE 2. Graduate enrollment in science and engineering fields, by field: 1996–2006.

  Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

Trends in first-time, full-time S&E enrollment vary by field and citizenship (figure 1, table 3). Although first-time, full-time foreign enrollment grew in every field between 2005 and 2006, it declined for U.S. citizens and permanent residents in over half of the fields.

FIGURE 1. First-time, full-time graduate enrollment in science and engineering fields, by citizenship and selected field: 2002–06.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

TABLE 3. First-time, full-time graduate enrollment in science and engineering fields, by field and citizenship: 2002–06.

  Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

The increase in 2006 in first-time, full-time enrollments of foreign students was largely the result of enrollment increases in engineering and computer sciences—the two fields attracting the largest numbers of first-time, full-time foreign students and having the greatest percentage growth in such students over 2005 levels. Mathematics and social sciences also experienced relatively large growth in full-time, first-time foreign students. Enrollment of such students all other S&E fields showed more modest increases.

Engineering and social sciences contributed most to the increase in 2006 in first-time, full-time enrollments of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Demographics

Women accounted for 43% of all S&E graduate students in 2006, up 4 percentage points since 1996 (table 1). Enrollment of female students has increased every year for the last 20 years, including a 2% increase in 2006. In contrast, after reaching a peak of about 280,300 in 1992, enrollment of men declined every year from 1993 to 1998. Enrollment of men grew by 14% between 1998 and 2003, with foreign men accounting for most (85%) of this growth; enrollment of men has leveled off since then.

Enrollment of minority students with U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status has increased in graduate S&E programs over the past decade (table 1). In contrast, enrollment of white citizens and permanent residents fell until 2001 and had a smaller percentage increase between 2001 and 2006 than did minority enrollment. In 2006 white, non-Hispanic students accounted for 66% of all U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in S&E graduate programs, down 1 percentage point from 2005 and 9 percentage points since 1996 (75%). Asian/Pacific Islanders were the second largest racial/ethnic group, accounting for 8.8% of U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in S&E graduate programs in 2006. Blacks accounted for 7.5%, followed by Hispanics (7.0%), and American Indian/Alaska Natives (0.6 %). Between 1996 and 2006, underrepresented minorities (black, non-Hispanic; Hispanic; American Indian/Alaska Native) grew from 11% to 15% of U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in S&E graduate programs.

Postdoctoral Appointees

Numbers of postdocs in S&E fields rose over most of the period covered by this report, reaching a record high of 34,813 in 2006; however, growth slowed substantially after 2003 and for the past 3 survey cycles has grown about 1% per year (table 1). Numbers of postdocs with temporary visas increased about 2% over 2005 levels, whereas numbers of postdocs who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents fell by less than 1%.

The number of foreign postdocs has increased by 52% since 1996, whereas the number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident postdocs has grown by 9%.

Data Comments and Availability

This publication provides the first release of data from the fall 2006 NSF-NIH Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. This survey is intended to cover students and postdocs in U.S. academic institutions. Data were collected from 12,320 departments at 586 institutions of higher education in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Of the departments surveyed, 97.4% responded; however, 2.6% of the reporting departments required imputation of missing data.

The full set of detailed tables from this survey will be available in the forthcoming report Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 2006 at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/gradpostdoc/. Individual detailed tables from the 2006 survey may be available in advance of the full report. For further information, or for details on the survey methodology used, please contact Julia Oliver.

Notes

[1] Julia Oliver, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Human Resources Statistics Program, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (joliver@nsf.gov; 703-292-7809).

[2] Foreign students are those with temporary visas; first-time graduate students are those enrolled for credit at the institution at which they are pursuing a graduate degree for the first time as of fall 2006; full-time enrollment is defined by each institution, using that institution's policies and definitions.


National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
First-Time, Full-Time Graduate Student Enrollment in Science and Engineering Increases in 2006,
Especially Among Foreign Students

Arlington, VA (NSF 08-302) [December 2007]


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