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National Science Foundation National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: Summary Report 2007-08


Financial Support and Education-Related Debt of Doctorate Recipients


Sources of Financial Support

The SED asks two questions that, taken together, provide information on the financial sources of support that new doctorate recipients used during graduate school (for the exact formats and wordings, see appendix B). The first question asks respondents to complete a checklist of 14 different potential sources of support, such as fellowships and scholarships, grants, teaching and research assistantships, and various personal arrangements. The second question asks respondents which of the identified sources was the primary source of support and which was the secondary source of support. For reporting purposes, these 14 sources are combined into seven categories, shown in table 22.

Three-fourths of the 2008 doctorate recipients reported teaching assistantships, research assistantships/traineeships, and fellowships/grants to be their primary source of support during graduate school. One in five (20%) new doctorate recipients in 2008 reported financing their graduate studies primarily through their own resources (funds from savings, loans, one's spouse and family, and non-academic employment). Non-U.S. sources, employer contributions, and other sources accounted for the remaining 5% of the cases (figure 18; table 22).

Sources of support differ substantially by field of study. For example, within each broad S&E field, at least two-thirds of doctorate recipients indicated teaching/research assistantships, traineeships, or fellowships/grants as their primary source of support. None of the S&E fields had more than 30% of doctorate recipients report relying on their own resources as a primary source of support. In contrast, humanities was the only broad non-S&E field with at least two-thirds of doctorate recipients reporting teaching/research assistantships, traineeships, or fellowships/grants as their primary source. In the other non-S&E fields, 60% of education doctorate recipients and 31% of recipients in other fields reported relying on their own resources as their primary source of graduate school support.

Overall, women were more likely than men to indicate that personal resources were their primary source of support (26% compared with 15%). This reflects both gender differences in broad fields of specialization and the differences among fields in sources of support (table 22).

Temporary visa holders are more likely to receive primary support from teaching assistantships (21%) or research assistantships (50%) than are U.S. citizens and permanent residents (16% and 21%, respectively). Temporary visa holders are also less likely to rely on their own resources (5%) for primary support than are U.S. citizen and permanent resident respondents (27%). The source of support differences between the two citizenship groups was similar across all broad S&E fields of study (table 22).

Differences in the various modes of financial support overall were found among racial/ethnic groups, in part reflecting differences in distributions among broad field of study (figure 18; table 22). Black doctorate recipients indicated the greatest reliance on their own resources to finance their doctoral program (41%), followed by American Indians (32%), Hispanics (29%), and multiracial recipients (25%) (table 22). Asians were the least likely of the racial/ethnic minority groups to report using their own resources (15%).

Substantial racial/ethnic differences in the use of different types of financial support were found within fields. In each broad S&E field, Asians and whites were generally more likely than blacks and Hispanics to rely on research assistantships and were less likely to have fellowships or grants as their primary source of support (table 22). Racial/ethnic differences in reliance on own resources were not as pronounced within most of the broad fields of study.

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Levels of Education-Related Debt

The SED asks new doctorate recipients to indicate how much money they owe that is directly tied to their undergraduate and graduate educational programs. Just over half (53%) of the respondents in 2008 reported having no graduate or undergraduate education-related (cumulative) debt, and another 19% reported cumulative debt of $20,000 or less (table 23). However, 8% of all new doctorate recipients reported debt over $70,000. Examining the debt distributions across the seven broad fields, substantial differences were evident. Graduates in engineering (66%) and physical sciences (64%) were most likely to complete their doctorate without education-related debt, followed by graduates in life sciences (54%), other fields (49%), and education (47%). Debt levels of $70,000 or more were most common among graduates in social science fields (15%), other fields (12%), humanities (11%), and education (11%).

Separating reported levels of undergraduate and graduate education-related debt shows greater indebtedness from graduate school than from undergraduate education. Overall, 74% of the 2008 doctoral cohort reported no remaining undergraduate debt, and less than 1% reported remaining undergraduate debt greater than $70,000 (table 23). In comparison, the percentage of respondents reporting no graduate school debt was lower (64%), and the percentage reporting the very highest levels of graduate school debt (i.e., greater than $70,000) was substantially higher (6%). The difference in levels of existing indebtedness between undergraduate and graduate school was particularly large for doctorate recipients in the social sciences and the broad non-S&E fields. The cumulative debt differences among the broad fields of doctoral study were greater for graduate education.

The pattern of debt levels for the study's main demographic groups is shown in table 24. Cumulative debt differences between the sexes in 2008 were not large, with new male doctorate recipients about four percentage points more likely to have no debt than their female counterparts (55% compared with 51%). U.S. citizen and permanent resident doctorate recipients were less likely than temporary visa holders to have no higher-education-related debt (43% compared with 73%) and were more likely to have debt totaling over $70,000 (10% compared with 4%) (table 24).

Particularly noteworthy is the much greater incidence of high levels of cumulative education-related debt among blacks, American Indians, Hispanics, and multiracial doctorate recipients (table 24). Of doctorate recipients, 24% of blacks, 14% of American Indians, 13% of Hispanics, and 13% of multiracial respondents owed over $70,000, compared with 5% of Asians and 9% of whites. Asians (60%) and whites (43%) were more likely to have no education-related debt at completion of the doctorate.

The racial/ethnic group graduate debt differences are in part a function of the racial/ethnic differences in fields of doctoral study, which, as seen in table 23, were also associated with levels of indebtedness. Table 25 and figure 19 show the percentages of racial/ethnic groups with graduate debt greater than $30,000 for each broad field of doctoral study. Black doctorate recipients in all fields were more likely than doctorate recipients in other racial/ethnic groups to complete their doctorate with at least that level of graduate-school debt. Hispanics, American Indians, and multiracial doctorate recipients were more likely than whites and Asians to incur such a high level of graduate school debt, but the differences are smaller than for blacks in most broad fields.

Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: Summary Report 2007-08
Special Report | NSF 10-309 | December 2009