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Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities
in Science and Engineering: 2002
Introduction Chapter 2: Undergraduate Enrollment Chapter 3: Undergraduate Degrees Chapter 4: Graduate Enrollment Chapter 5: Graduate Degrees Chapter 6: Employment Technical Notes Appendix Tables
Chapter Contents:
Associate's degrees
Bachelor's degrees
Debt at graduation
Appendix Tables
List of Figures
Presentation Slides

Undergraduate Degrees

Bachelor's degrees

Minority women
Students with disabilities

The baccalaureate is the most prevalent degree in science and engineering, accounting for 76 percent of all degrees awarded in S&E (NSF/SRS 2001). In 1998, as has been the case historically, about one-third of all bachelor's degree awards were earned in S&E fields. The total number of S&E bachelor's degrees awarded, as well as the total number of baccalaureate degrees awarded in non-S&E fields, increased between 1990 and 1998. (See appendix table 3-4.)

Women  top of page

The number of bachelor's degrees in S&E awarded to women increased from 140,012 in 1990 to 190,397 in 1998. (See appendix table 3-4.) Concurrently, the number of S&E bachelor's degrees awarded to men fluctuated around 200,000. (See figure 3-2 figure.) Women earn more bachelor's degrees in non-S&E fields than do men; in 1998, they accounted for 60 percent of all such awards. (See appendix table 3-4.)

Women earn nearly half of all S&E baccalaureate awards. The percentage of bachelor's degrees in S&E awarded to women has been steadily increasing; in 1998, it reached 49 percent. (See appendix table 3-4.) Also, the share of bachelor's degrees awarded to women in almost all major S&E fields increased during the 1990s. Mathematics was one exception to this trend; in this field, women's share of baccalaureate awards hovered at around 46 percent from 1990 to 1998. Another exception was computer science: in this field, the number of awards dropped for both men and women from 1990 to 1996. The decline for women was greater, though, than for men; and over the 1990–98 period, the proportion of computer science bachelor's degrees awarded to women dropped from 30 percent to 27 percent. (See figure 3-1 figure and appendix table 3-4.)

In 1998, women earned almost three-fourths of the bachelor's degrees awarded in psychology and over half of those granted in the biological sciences and in most social sciences. They earned 47 percent of the bachelor's degrees in mathematics, 46 percent in chemistry, and 43 percent each in the agricultural and ocean sciences. Women earned approximately a third of the bachelor's degrees in several fields—the earth sciences (38 percent), astronomy (35 percent), chemical engineering (33 percent), and economics (32 percent). On the other hand, less than 20 percent of the bachelor's degrees awarded in 1998 in aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and physics went to women. (See appendix table 3-6.)

Minorities  top of page

The numbers of bachelor's degrees earned by Asians, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians in both S&E and non-S&E fields increased each year from 1990 to 1998. In contrast, the numbers of S&E and non-S&E bachelor's degrees earned by whites increased and then decreased in the 1990s, resulting in a small overall increase. (See appendix table 3-8.) In science and engineering as a whole and within S&E fields, both the numbers and percentages of degrees earned by nonwhite racial/ethnic groups have risen since 1990. (See figure 3-3 figure and appendix table 3-9.) More recent data on bachelor's degrees in engineering show continued increases in degree awards to Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians. The number of bachelor's degrees earned by blacks in engineering, which increased from 1990 to 1997, has remained relatively stable over the last several years. (See appendix table 3-10.) The number of engineering bachelor's degrees earned by whites, which declined through the 1990s, increased in 2000.

Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians earn roughly the same percentages of S&E bachelor's degrees as they do of non-S&E degrees. Blacks earned 8 percent of both the S&E and non-S&E bachelor's degrees awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents in 1998. Hispanics earned 7 percent of each, and American Indians earned less than 1 percent of each. In contrast, Asians earned 9 percent of S&E, but only 5 percent of non-S&E, bachelor's degrees in 1998. With the exception of Asians, for whom almost half of all bachelor's degrees received are in S&E, about one-third of all bachelor's degrees earned by each racial/ethnic group are in science and engineering.

The contrast in field distribution among whites, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians on the one hand and Asians on the other is apparent within S&E fields as well. White, black, Hispanic, and American Indian S&E baccalaureate recipients share a similar distribution across broad S&E fields. For example, in 1998, between 10 and 12 percent of all baccalaureate recipients in each of these racial/ethnic groups earned their degrees in the social sciences, roughly 5 percent in the biological sciences, and about 2 percent in computer science. Asian baccalaureate recipients earned higher proportions of their baccalaureates in the biological sciences and engineering. (See figure 3-4 figure.) Differences among racial/ethnic groups are somewhat greater by detailed S&E fields. (See appendix table 3-11.)

Minority women  top of page

The numbers of bachelor's degrees awarded in science and engineering increased from 1990 to 1998 for women in each racial/ethnic group, rising from approximately 113,000 to 137,000 for whites; 8,000 to 16,000 for Asians; 10,000 to 19,000 for blacks; 6,000 to 14,000 for Hispanics; and 600 to 1,300 for American Indians. (See appendix table 3-15.) The numbers of bachelor's degrees granted to Asian, black, Hispanic, and American Indian men in S&E also increased during this period. In contrast, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to white men dropped from approximately 158,000 in 1990 to 153,000 in 1998. (See appendix table 3-16.)

Within each racial/ethnic group in 1998, women accounted for a lower percentage of the bachelor's degrees in S&E than in non-S&E fields. In contrast to white and Asian women, however, black, Hispanic, and American Indian women earned more than half of the bachelor's degrees in S&E awarded to their respective racial/ethnic group in 1998. (See appendix table 3-17.)

Students with disabilities  top of page

The National Center for Education Statistics collects data on bachelor's or master's degree awards, but does not include measures of disability status. Further, as noted in the sidebar on the "Availability of Institutional Data on Students With Disabilities," in chapter 2, colleges and universities do not maintain data in their central records that identify students with disabilities. Therefore, degree data collected from colleges and universities are not reported by disability status.

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