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Front Matter



Any report on education and education systems is, at its heart, a story about people, places, and the times in which they exist. U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century is about doctoral students, the institutions that provided their education, and the factors—intellectual, scientific, social, political, and economic—that effected change during the most significant and tumultuous period in American graduate education. It is a story told primarily with numbers, in this case, the most extensive and reliable data about those who earned the doctoral degree during this period. The thoughtful narrative adds a human dimension to the tables, charts, and graphs.

The number and kinds of students seeking doctoral degrees during the last 25 years of the 20th century changed dramatically and included more women, minorities, and international students. As knowledge in many fields strained traditional discipline boundaries, new interdisciplinary programs as well as entire new fields developed. The costs associated with graduate education, and the way students paid for their education, became more complex. Career options available to doctoral graduates broadened, and traditional patterns of postgraduate employment changed. These and other changes, shifts, and trends are documented in this publication.

U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century continues the work begun in its companion volume, A Century of Doctorates, published in 1978, and extends the story of American doctoral education to the end of the 20th century. It is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the nature and scope of doctoral education in the United States.

Jules B. LaPidus, Ph.D.
President Emeritus
Council of Graduate Schools


The availability of new types of data on doctorates, the significant changes in doctoral education known to have occurred in the past 25 years, and the close of the 20th century make this a good time to reexamine the long-term trends in U.S. doctoral education. NSF's Division of Science Resources Statistics commissioned this report to explore these trends and to make the results available to the public. Cosponsors of the report are the National Institutes of Health, the National Endowment for Humanities, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The volume is organized into chapters, beginning with an introduction. Chapter 2 traces the development of doctoral education in the United States from its beginnings in the last half of the 19th century and presents general trends on numbers of institutions and doctorate recipients from the early 1900s to 1999.

The third chapter addresses the fields of study in which Ph.D.s receive their doctorates, as well as Ph.D.s' demographic characteristics, including sex, citizenship status, race/ethnicity, age, disability status, marital status and dependents, and the educational attainment of their parents. The data presented in chapter 3 provide the background for the topics presented in chapters 4 through 6. Each of these four chapters begins with a summary of data highlights.

Chapter 4 begins the exploration of the educational path followed by Ph.D.s after they leave secondary school. It considers attendance at 2-year colleges; attainment of bachelor's, master's and professional degrees, including foreign bachelor's degrees; fields of bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees, including field switching between the baccalaureate and the doctorate; the primary source of support in graduate school and in doctoral study; activity in the year before receipt of the doctorate; education-related debt; and the time required to earn the doctorate after receiving the baccalaureate. Chapter 5 continues this exploration by providing information on the leading undergraduate and graduate institutions involved in the education of Ph.D.s.

The last chapter, "After the Doctorate," examines the immediate plans of Ph.D.s for employment or further study after graduation, including how definite those plans are and whether the new graduates plan to stay in the United States. For those Ph.D.s with definite employment plans in the United States, the chapter describes their sector of employment, primary work activity, and geographic destination (state). For those Ph.D.s planning to pursue a postdoctoral appointment or other additional study, the chapter examines their financial support mechanisms (such as fellowships and research associateships), settings or sectors for the postdoctoral study, and sources of support.


Six federal agencies provided funding for this project: the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Education (USED), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). These same agencies sponsor the annual administration of the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) and the maintenance of the Doctorate Records File (DRF), a data bank of doctoral records dating to 1920. The DRF is the source of most data in this report. Until 1997 the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) conducted the SED; it is currently conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, Chicago, Illinois.

Susan T. Hill, Human Resources Statistics Program (HRS), Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS), NSF, conceived this report and guided its development. Lori Thurgood (SRI International) prepared the initial report with assistance from Charles Dickens, consultant to SRI, and Michael McGeary, formerly of SRI. Mary J. Golladay, former HRS director, contributed substantially to this report, as did Mary J. Frase, SRS Deputy Division Director, who was acting director of HRS as the report was nearing its final form. Lynda T. Carlson, Division Director, SRS, provided overall guidance for the project; Nancy L. Leach, director, HRS, provided additional guidance. Prudy Brown, Michael Canavan, and Steven Perakis (all of SRI) provided support in completing the figures, tables, and citations. Barbara DePaul (QRC Division of Macro International, Inc.) generated the many detailed tabulations from the DRF that were the basis of the report's analyses. Maurya Green (SRS) conducted historical research and assisted in the preparation of figures and tables. Kevin Mitchell (Aspen Systems, Inc.) edited an early draft of the report. Mary Golladay, Mary Frase, and Cheryl S. Roesel (SRS) designed the final report and directed its production.

Walter Schaffer and Charles Sherman (NIH), Nancy Borkow (USED), Jeff Thomas and Frank Shaw (NEH), and S. Sureshwaran (USDA) provided constructive reviews of the design of the SED and its analysis in reports such as this one. Beatrice Clewell (Urban Institute), Lindsey Harmon, Jules LaPidus, James Maxwell (American Mathematical Society), Peter Syverson (Council of Graduate Schools), and NSF reviewers Robert Bell, Joan Burrelli, James Lightbourne, Joan Lorden, and Judith Sunley reviewed and provided valuable comments on the report.

This report would not have been possible without the legion of people who have been involved with the SED over the years, particularly the doctorate recipients, now more than 40,000 each year, who have completed the SED. The authors extend special thanks to Lindsey Harmon, the author of A Century of Doctorates: Data Analyses of Growth and Change, published in 1978 by NAS/NRC. This work provided the authors with much of the historical context for doctoral education in the first three-quarters of the 20th century.


Front Matter

Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapter 2. Historical Background

Chapter 3. Field Choices and Demographic Characteristics of Doctorate Recipients

Chapter 4. Path to the Doctorate

Chapter 5. Baccalaureate and Doctoral Institutions

Chapter 6. After the Doctorate

Appendix A. Detailed Doctoral Fields and Demographic Characteristics of Ph.D.s

Appendix B. Top 50 Baccalaureate and Doctoral Institutions and Doctorate Production by State

Appendix C. Technical Notes


List of Tables

List of Figures

Figure Reference Tables (web only)

Supplemental Tables (web only)


Susan  T. Hill,
Project Officer
Human Resources Statistics Program
(703) 292-7790
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U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century | NSF 06-319 | October 2006

National Science Foundation Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS)
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