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Outcomes: Master's, Doctorates, and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering

Master's Degrees
Doctorates
Postdoctorates

Degrees marking the formal outcomes of graduate education are important credentials for those pursuing science and engineering careers. Data on these outcomes provide benchmarks for measuring the progress of population groups in increasing their representation.

Graduate education has expanded significantly during the past 25 years. The overall trends in degree awards document the pattern of growth: for about 10 years, from approximately the mid-1960s until the mid-1970s, growth was sustained and rapid. From that point forward, increases occurred, but they were slower, limited to certain discipline areas, or marked by interim periods of decline.

One hundred and sixty-four percent more master's degrees were awarded in 1993 than 1966; the percentage of doctorates went up by 121 percent during those years. The number of master's degrees awarded in science and engineering fields rose more slowly than others-by 110 percent-whereas doctoral awards increased at about the same rate in both these broad fields and all disciplines.

Periods of expansion generally offer environments in which barriers may fall or ease. Although change has in fact occurred, during the last 25 years, the magnitudes of increases for underrepresented groups are strikingly different and in many instances do not approach the level of growth overall. The variety of factors influencing the outcomes for different groups makes generalizations difficult.

The proportion of women earning graduate science and engineering degrees has increased substantially, although it lags behind their presence in other fields, in which women earn more degrees than men at both the master's and doctoral levels (60 percent of master's degrees and 52 percent of doctorates). Generally, women have increased their earning of science and engineering graduate degrees, while men's substantial majority of such degrees has declined slightly. In 1993, women's numbers had improved to 36 percent of the master's and 30 percent of the doctorates; these figures were substantially different from 1966, when women earned 13 percent of science and engineering master's degrees and 8 percent of such doctorates. When graduate degrees in all fields are counted, however, although men earned fewer than half the master's, they earned 62 percent of the doctorates (contrast 1966, when men took 66 percent of the master's and 88 percent of the doctorates). (See appendix table 4-19.)

Participation varies across racial/ethnic groups as well as by degree level. Over the last decade, however, increases occurred in total degree awards across all disciplines to members of all groups. In 1966, women earned 47,588 master's degrees (34 percent of those awarded) and 2,086 doctorates (12 percent). By 1993, those numbers had climbed to 201,220 (54 percent) and 15,108 (38 percent).

Master's Degrees

Women

Women earned over half of the 370,973 master's degrees awarded in all fields in 1993. (See appendix tables 4-20 and 4-22.) They first received a majority of all master's degrees in 1981, earning more than half the nonscience and engineering degrees since 1975 (NSF 1994, p. 74). (See appendix table 4-19.) In science and engineering fields, both the number of women earning master's degrees and their percentage of the total have risen steadily, increasing in the last 10 years to 30,971 (36 percent of degrees awarded). In contrast, the number of science and engineering degree awards to men reached a high in 1977, then bottomed out in 1981; in 1990, the number climbed above the 1977 level and has continued upward since then.

Women's master's awards varied by field. In the science fields excluding engineering, women steadily increased their share. By 1993, women accounted for 46 percent of science master's degrees, up from 39 percent a decade earlier. Among the science fields, women were most heavily represented in psychology, earning almost 72 percent of the master's degrees in 1993, up from 61 percent in 1983; biological/agricultural sciences (46 percent in 1993, 38 percent in 1983); and social sciences (almost 47 percent in 1993). Men were most overrepresented in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences (72 percent of the degrees) and the physical sciences (70 percent).

Women continued to be seriously underrepresented among engineering master's degrees. Their percentage of master's degrees overall did increase, however, from 9 percent in 1983 to 15 percent in 1993. (See figures 4-8 and 4-9.)

See appendix table 4-20.

See appendix table 4-20

Minorities

In 1993, U.S. citizens and permanent residents earned 81 percent of their master's degrees in fields other than science and engineering. Members of underrepresented minority groups earned 4,899 science and engineering master's degrees in 1993; Asians, 4,846 (each making up about 8 percent of the total master's awarded in those fields). This was an increase for both groups, both in absolute numbers and proportions of the total: blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians together earned 7 percent in 1985, and Asians, about 6 percent. (See figure 4-10.)

See appendix table 4-21.

Despite uneven growth during the last decade, some science and engineering disciplines granted substantially higher numbers of master's degrees. Different racial/ethnic groups gained at different rates-Asians earned 48 percent more master's degrees than in 1985; blacks, 47 percent; Hispanics, 38 percent; American Indians, 11 percent; and whites, 9 percent. (See appendix table 4-21.)

Asians

Asian predominance among master's degree holders in engineering was more marked than in the combined fields. In 1985, Asians earned 11 percent of such degrees, compared with 5 percent for underrepresented minorities. In 1993, Asians held 13 percent, compared with 7 percent for blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians.

The science and engineering field with the largest number of awards at the master's degree level for all racial/ethnic groups except for Asians was social science; they earned only 3 percent of those degrees. Asians earned the highest proportion of all degrees in computer science (18 percent), followed by engineering (13 percent). (See appendix table 4-22.)

The gains were especially striking in computer science, in which Asians' proportion of all such degrees went up from 12 percent in 1985 to 18 percent in 1993, an 80 percent increase.

Blacks

Numbers of science and engineering master's degrees awarded to blacks continued to climb since 1989, growing by 47 percent between 1985 and 1993, with the greatest increases occurring in recent years. In 1993, blacks earned 18,897 master's degrees in all fields, just over 6 percent of the total, a proportion that has remained relatively stable over the past 8 years. The biggest gains were in mathematical science (84 percent) and computer science and engineering (71 percent in each field).

Hispanics

The overall growth trend for Hispanics earning master's degrees in science and engineering was similar to that for blacks, and second only to Asians. Hispanics earned 2,092 science and engineering master's degrees in 1993, 4 percent of the total, up 578 from 1985, when they held 3 percent of the total. In 1993, Hispanics earned over 11,000 master's degrees in all fields, almost 4 percent of the total.

American Indians

The few American Indians earning master's degrees-1,344 in 1993, considerably less than 1 percent of total degrees awarded-makes comparisons and generalizations difficult. Only 253 American Indians earned master's degrees in science and engineering in 1993; this figure was up slightly from 228 in 1985.

Doctorates

Of the nearly 40,000 doctorates awarded in the United States in 1993, about two-thirds went to U.S. citizens and students on permanent visas, an increase from the over 25,000 awarded in 1983. Students from other nations and those of unknown citizenship status earned over 11,000 doctoral degrees that year. The percentage of students from abroad was higher in science and engineering than their presence in the general population of those receiving doctorates. Of the more than 25,000 doctorates awarded here in 1993 in science and engineering, 58 percent went to citizens and permanent residents. Over 60 percent of doctorates in engineering went to students from other nations and those of unknown citizenship status. Underrepresented U.S. minorities earned 8 percent of the total doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens, up from about 6 percent of the total in 1983. (See appendix tables 4-26 and 4-27.)

Women

Women in all citizenship groups earned 15,108 of the 39,754 doctorates awarded in all fields in 1993, 38 percent of the total. (See appendix tables 4-23 and 4-24.) In fields other than science and engineering, women earned 52 percent of the doctorates awarded in 1993, up from 46 percent in 1983. The number of doctoral degrees in science and engineering awarded to women increased from 4,624 (4,500 science and 124 engineering) in 1983 to 7,537 in 1993 (7,016 and 521)-63 percent more degrees in 1993. (See figure 4-11.)

See appendix table 4-23.

Important differences marked trends in science and engineering fields. Although the number of women earning doctorates in engineering remained small, it was over four times their total in 1983 and in terms of percentages of all engineering degrees awarded, was nearly double the 1992 percentage. (See appendix table 4-23 and text table 4-3.)

In 1993, women earned the highest percentage of doctorates in psychology (61 percent), the only broad science field in which women received a majority of the doctorates. Psychology was followed by biological sciences (40 percent of all awards went to women) and the social sciences (37 percent). (See figure 4-12.) Men, on the other hand, earned the highest percentage of doctorates in engineering (91 percent), computer sciences (84 percent), physical sciences (79 percent), earth sciences (79 percent), and mathematical sciences (77 percent).

See appendix table 4-24.

Women earned more doctoral degrees in all science and engineering fields in 1993 than 1983. Although their numbers remained small in several science fields in 1993, they earned almost four times as many doctorates in computer science, almost twice as many in mathematics, and more than twice as many in the physical sciences as 10 years earlier. Men earned fewer degrees in agriculture and in psychology in 1993 than 1983.

Where They Study

Women received the majority of doctorates awarded in science fields at two California universities-the California School of Professional Psychology and the United States International University. In no institution did they earn the majority of degrees in engineering, earning none in 11 of the universities awarding women the most science and engineering doctorates and a high of 28 at Stanford University (14 percent of degrees conferred). (See appendix table 4-25.)

Minorities

Since 1983, minorities-both Asian and other-increased the numbers of doctorates they earned and their percentage of the total degrees awarded. (See figure 4-13.) As was the case with master's degrees, whites and Asians together accounted for most of the increase in numbers of science and engineering doctorates. In terms of proportional increase of groups of individuals earning such doctorates, however, whites gained the smallest percentage-8 percent-compared to 106 percent for Asians, 91 percent for Hispanics, 43 percent for American Indians, and 38 percent for blacks. For all of the underrepresented minorities, the numbers of science and engineering doctorate recipients in 1993 were very small: fewer than 600 went to Hispanics, fewer than 500 to blacks, and fewer than 50 to American Indians. Numbers of doctorates awarded to all groups increased between 1983 and 1993. (See appendix table 4-26.)

See appendix table 4-26.

Foreign nationals with permanent visas increased both their numbers of earned doctorates and their proportion of the total awards over the decade. In science and engineering fields, they recorded the largest jump-733 more doctorates than 1983-a percentage rise from 6 to 10 percent of the doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

U.S. citizens and permanent residents earned well over 16,000 doctorates in science and engineering fields in 1993, 14 percent more than they had earned a decade earlier. Of this number, 16 percent were earned by minorities (6 percent by blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians). (See figure 4-14.) Asians increased their percentage substantially in science and engineering as well as other fields. (See appendix tables 4-26 and 4-27.)

See appendix table 4-26.

Asians

Between 1983 and 1993, Asians increased their representation in doctorates in all fields, earning 891 degrees in 1993, over 3 percent of the total to U.S. citizens. Their number among doctorates awarded in science and engineering also increased, to 713 in 1993-5 percent of such doctorates awarded to citizens and permanent residents.

Blacks

In 1993, although the proportion of doctorates earned by black U.S. citizens in all fields remained at the roughly 4 percent they held in 1983, they earned 184 more degrees. Their 2 percent proportion of science and engineering doctorates also remained steady over the decade; however, they earned 77 more degrees in 1993 than 1983. The most popular science and engineering field by far for black U.S. citizens and permanent residents at the doctorate level was psychology, which accounted for almost one-third of all of the science and engineering doctorates awarded. (See figure 4-15.)

See appendix table 4-27.

Hispanics

In 1993, Hispanics earned 834 doctorates in all fields, just over 3 percent of the doctorates earned by all U.S. citizens. They increased both their total doctorates and percentage from 1983 (539 and 2 percent, respectively).

The number of science and engineering doctorates earned by Hispanics increased by 87 percent over the decade, though, as in the case of blacks, the numbers remained relatively small. In science and engineering, Hispanics earned 446 of the doctorates to U.S. citizens in 1993, 3 percent of the total. In this area they also increased both their numbers-up from 239-and their proportion-up from 2 percent in 1983. The most popular science and engineering field at the doctorate level for Hispanics was psychology, the field chosen by 27 percent of Hispanics earning science and engineering doctorates.

American Indians

In 1993, only 119 American Indians earned doctorates in all fields (43 of them in science and engineering), in both cases, well under 1 percent of the total. The most popular field was psychology (37 percent of all science and engineering doctorates).

Where They Study

Although doctoral education in the United States is a national resource, operating to some extent in a national market, awards of science and engineering doctorates to U.S. citizens show regional variations by race/ethnicity. Asians earned 44 percent of the doctorates to minorities who are U.S. citizens (and 5 percent of all doctorates to U.S. citizens). In only one case did more than two American Indians earn degrees from the same institution in 1993; in contrast, more than 120 Asians earned doctorates at three large California universities combined. Hispanics, who earned 3 percent of the science and engineering doctorates awarded in 1993 to U.S. citizens, were also concentrated in California at the University of California (Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses); nine or more of them also graduated from the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras Campus, the University of Miami (Florida), two Texas universities, and Ohio State University. (See appendix table 4-28.) All these institutions except Ohio State are located in areas where many Hispanics live.

Students With Disabilities

Individuals reporting disabilities earned only 329 science and engineering doctorates in 1993, just over 1 percent of the 25,184 total such degrees awarded. Two-hundred-and-eighty-four of those degrees were in science fields; 45 in engineering. Sixty-two percent of the science doctorates awarded to persons reporting disabilities were fairly evenly distributed across three fields-the biological and social sciences and psychology. (See appendix table 4-29.) Small as the numbers are, they represent an 18 percent increase over the 280 science and engineering doctorate earners with disabilities self-reporting the year before (NSF 1994, p.83). [16]

Persons with disabilities are more likely than other doctorate earners to take their degrees in psychology (22 percent compared to 14 percent) and in the social sciences (20 percent compared to 14 percent) and less likely to take doctorates in engineering (14 percent compared to 23 percent).

The trend of respondents to report "other" or "unknown" when requested to identify their disabilities continued upward. Those reporting "other" disabilities or not responding rose from 23 percent in 1988 to 40 percent in 1993. (See NSF 1994, p. 84, and appendix table 4-30.) This choice may reflect the growing number of individuals claiming learning and health-related disabilities as well as those unable or unwilling to define their disability within the other categories offered.

The race/ethnicity of U.S. citizens with disabilities holding doctorates in science and engineering parallels that of all who hold such degrees, with one exception. Asians earned 5 percent of all U.S. citizens' doctorates in science and engineering. (See appendix table 4-26.) They constitute only 3 percent of the persons with disabilities earning doctorates in science and engineering. (See appendix table 4-31.)

Earning a doctorate generally takes longer for students with disabilities than for those without. Almost half of all graduate students with disabilities in 1993 spent more than 10 years completing their science and engineering doctorates; only a third of all graduate students in those fields spent as long. (See figure 4-16, SIDEBAR: "Students With Disabilities Studying Science, Engineering, and Mathematics: The Time Disadvantage" and chapter 3.) For variations on time from baccalaureate to doctorate by sex and field, see appendix table 4-5.

See appendix table 4-32.

Postdoctorates

Postdoctorates offer individuals interim opportunities to continue their careers while searching for permanent appointments in academia or industry. Postdoctoral positions in science and engineering fields, which have increased in number since the mid-1980s, [17] have historically been more prevalent in scientific fields such as biological sciences than in engineering. Recent years have seen more postdoctoral students in other fields.

Since 1988, men have been appointed to more postdoctoral positions in all science and engineering fields than have women; however, the proportion of science and engineering postdoctorates awarded to women edged from 25 percent in 1988 to 28 percent in 1993. (See appendix table 4-33.) Asians holding doctoral degrees are more likely to enter postdoctoral training positions than blacks, Hispanics, or American Indians (Smith and Tang 1994, p. 107). Although postdoctoral appointments have continued to increase steadily, the largest proportionate gain between 1988 and 1993 occurred among the few women postdoctorates in anthropology, where their proportion went from 34 percent of the appointments to 56 percent. [18]


[16] Changes in the willingness of respondents to identify themselves as having a disability may also account for some of this increase over time. (See chapter 3.)
[17] Data on postdoctorates are collected neither by racial/ethnic group nor by disability status.
[18] 1991-1993 data from the American Anthropological Association report that women faculty in that field make up 35 percent of full professors, 31 percent of associates, and 31 percent of assistants (Givens and Jablonski 1995). This distribution among ranks is more uniform than that shown among the full-time ranked science and engineering faculty on appendix table 5-27.


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