Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 1999

Technical Notes[1]

Survey Universe top

The data collected in the fall 1999 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering represent national estimates of graduate enrollment and postdoctoral employment at the beginning of academic year 1999-2000 in all academic institutions in the United States that granted doctorate or master's degrees in any science or engineering field. Included are data for all branch campuses, affiliated research centers, and separately organized components such as medical or dental schools, schools of nursing, public health, etc. The survey universe consisted of 720 reporting units at 599 graduate institutions. Included were 242 master's-granting institutions and 478 reporting units associated with 357 doctorate-granting institutions.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has collected data on graduate science and engineering (S&E) enrollment and postdoctoral appointees since 1966. From fall 1966 through fall 1971, data from a limited number of doctorate-granting institutions were collected through the NSF Graduate Traineeship Program, which requested data only on those S&E fields supported by NSF. Beginning with the fall 1972 survey, this data collection effort was assigned to NSF's Universities and Nonprofit Institutions Studies Group and was gradually expanded from 1972-75 to include additional S&E fields as well as all institutions known to have programs leading to a master's or doctoral degree. Due to this expansion, data for 1974 and earlier years are not strictly comparable with 1975 and later data. Technical table 1 shows the number of institutions, reporting units, and departments at each level included in the data, as well as the total enrollment reported for each year between 1966 and 1999. No attempt has been made to inflate the data for 1966-74 to reflect universe totals.

Beginning with the 1984-85 academic year, master's-granting institutions were surveyed on a sample basis. From 1984-87 the survey design was a stratified random sample, with all doctorate-granting institutions, all master's-granting historically black colleges and universities, and all land-grant institutions included in the certainty stratum. The remaining master's-granting institutions were divided into two sample strata on the basis of enrollment size. Data for sampled institutions for the years 1984-87 were reestimated in 1988 on the basis of 1983 and 1988 data. During the 1989 survey cycle, S&E field definitions were reviewed and some departments were deleted. Data for 1975-88 were adjusted to conform to the revised definitions.

The fall 1988 survey included the entire survey population for the first time since 1983-84. Since 1988, any institutions starting up S&E master's or doctoral programs have been added to the survey universe, and any that have closed all their S&E graduate programs have been deleted. (See Survey Methodology, below.)

Technical tables 2 and 3 present data on departmental coverage by S&E field for doctorate- and master's-granting institutions for the last 8 years surveyed.

Survey Instruments top

The survey questionnaire on which data were reported in fall 1999 was different from that used in fall 1998. The 1999 survey questionnaire was the first in which the Department of Energy was added as a source of support category. In addition, many of the race/ethnicity categories were changed in 1999. This year the Asian American category and the Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander category were separated. In previous years both had been combined into the Asian/Pacific Islander category. Two new categories were also added to the race/ethnicity section of the survey, More than One Race Hispanic and More than One Race Non-Hispanic. The "other" category, included in previous years' surveys, was removed from the 1999 survey. Finally, first-time enrollment by race/ethnicity was requested for the first time in 1999.

Please note that while these changes were made to the 1999 survey questionnaire, they are not reflected in the published tables. The data reported in the new categories were combined into the previous years' survey categories for table production. Of the 11,833 departments that reported data, 4.6 percent reported students under the Department of Energy column. These data were combined with the data in the "Other Federal Sources of Support" category in the published tables. For the race/ethnicity section of the survey, 19.8 percent of the departments provided data in the new categories. The data from these departments were collapsed into the following categories: the "Asian American" category data were combined with the "Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander" category data to comprise the "Asian/Pacific Islander" category on the tables; the "One Race Only Hispanic" category data and the "More than One Race Hispanic" category data were combined to produce the "Hispanic" category on the tables; and the "More than One Race Non-Hispanic" category data were combined with the "Unknown" category to form the "Other or Unknown" category on the tables.

In addition to the questionnaire proper, each survey package also included the following

Survey Methodology  top

The survey packages were mailed out by November 30, 1999. This was the second year in which schools had the option of reporting data using the new NSF-NIH Graduate Student Survey Web-Based Data Reporting System. Three hundred and twenty-seven schools chose to report data using the new Web system. The final survey universe consisted of 720 reporting units at 599 institutions.

In addition to the verification information cited above, the acknowledgment postcard also requested that institutional coordinators indicate how the data were collected, whether the data were maintained centrally or collected from individual departments, and whether they were derived from a computerized database or hand tabulated. Of the 720 reporting units surveyed, 98.9 percent have provided this information over the past 10 years. The majority of schools report a combination of sources for their data. Over the years, the use of computerized systems has shown a gradual but small increase, while the use of hand tabulation has slowly decreased.

Institutional coordinators were asked to review the departmental listing provided in the survey packet and to indicate any changes in their departmental structure such as departments newly formed, phased out, split, or merged; they were also asked to check off any departments that had neither graduate students nor postdoctorates and for which survey questionnaires would therefore not be submitted. The revised Form 811s were returned to NSF's data processing contractor for use as a checklist in tracking departmental responses.

A survey questionnaire was completed for each department either centrally or at the department level and was returned to the data processing contractor for data entry, editing, and tabulation. Arithmetic errors, inconsistencies between items, and sharp year-to-year fluctuations were referred to the institutional coordinators for correction or clarification.

Response Rate  top

Of the 720 reporting units included in the fall 1999 survey, 716—or 99.4 percent—were able to provide at least partial data, distributed as follows:

At the departmental level, 11,685 departments responded, or 98.7 percent of the 11,833 departments surveyed. Of these, 9,396 departments, or 79.4 percent of the total, provided complete responses. A total of 148 departments, or 1.3 percent of the departmental total, required complete imputation; 2,289, or 19.3 percent, had one or more data cells imputed. Technical table 4 presents the department response rates for earlier years for comparison.

Missing data for partially nonrespondent departments were imputed using the departments' previous year's data, where available, or data from peer institutions in cases where data had not been reported the previous year. Data for nonrespondent departments (those that did not provide any data) were imputed using data from the previous year, where available. The number of departments in doctorate- and master's-granting institutions that required total or partial imputation, and the numbers and proportions of full- and part-time graduate students and postdoctorates imputed, are shown in technical tables 5 and 6. Imputation rates by survey data item are provided in technical table 7[PDF](pdf only) .

Changes in Data Items  top

Although NSF has attempted to maintain consistent trend data, some modifications in the survey questionnaire have been made to respond to changing issues over the past 25 years. As a result, some data items are not available for all institutions in all years.

Major changes in the data collected are as follows:

Data Revisions  top

During the fall 1988 survey cycle, the criteria for including departments in the survey universe were tightened, and all departments surveyed were reviewed. Those departments not primarily oriented toward granting research degrees were no longer considered to meet the definition of science and engineering. As a result of this review, it was determined that a number of departments—primarily those in the field of "Social sciences, not elsewhere classified"—were engaged in training primarily teachers, practitioners, administrators, or managers rather than researchers; these departments were deleted from the database. This process was continued during the 1989-97 survey cycles and expanded to ensure trend consistency for the entire 1975-97 period. As a result, total enrollments and social science enrollments for all years were reduced. The net effect of adjustments over the years is shown in technical table 8.

During the same period, the survey methodology changed so that the institution's highest S&E degree in the current year would apply to all previous years in which that institution was surveyed. Since a number of master's-granting institutions have become doctorate-granting institutions over the years, the result has been a smaller decrease in enrollment at doctorate-granting institutions than at master's-granting institutions. For the years 1975-76 and 1991-92, there was an increase in enrollment at doctorate-granting institutions after subsequent year modifications.

The definition of medical schools was revised during the fall 1992 survey cycle to include only those institutional components that are members of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Tables generated after the fall 1992 survey differ from their counterparts in earlier years in that they exclude schools of nursing, public health, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and other health-related disciplines; they should not be compared with tables from earlier years.


[1]  See for a more detailed discussion of the methodology used in this survey.

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