Undergraduate Origins in Foreign Institutions

Most recipients of S&E doctorates from U.S. universities also receive their undergraduate education at U.S. institutions. Foreign institutions do, however, play a significant role. Therefore, at the beginning of this section, brief consideration is given to the extent to which foreign institutions have provided the undergraduate education of S&E doctorate recipients. Baccalaureate origins in U.S. institutions are then treated in more detail.

Universities in the United States and other major Western nations house advanced training facilities and employ distinguished scholars. Consequently, many students from foreign countries come to the United States to obtain graduate S&E training. In 1995, 40 percent of all S&E doctorate recipients from U.S. universities were citizens of foreign countries; a decade earlier, the comparable figure was 27 percent.[3] Given the growing international nature of the scientific and technological community, it is not surprising that over one-third of all recipients of S&E doctorates awarded by U.S. universities had received their baccalaureates from foreign institutions.

Role of Foreign Institutions by S&E Field

Considerably more engineering doctorate holders received their undergraduate education in foreign institutions than did science doctorate holders: 56 percent versus 31 percent (chart 1). In several science fields, however, the proportion of foreign baccalaureate holders was significantly higher than the average: Mathematics (52 percent), computer science (49 percent), agriculture (48 percent), physics (43 percent), chemistry (37 percent), and social science (35 percent) (table 1).

Foreign Citizen Scientists and Engineers (S&Es) Who Earned Both Baccalaureate and Doctorate in the United States

Most foreign citizens who earned S&E doctorates in the United States completed the lower levels of education in their native countries. Some foreign S&E doctorate holders, however, had received not only their doctorate in the United States, but also their baccalaureate. As would be expected, a higher proportion of foreign S&E doctorate recipients with permanent resident visas than with temporary visas (17 versus 7 percent) had earned their baccalaureate in U.S. institutions.

Among foreign citizens who received their S&E doctorate in the United States, those of certain countries had high proportions who also earned their baccalaureate in the United States. Iran, the Caribbean Islands, (West) Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Lebanon, and Nigeria had high proportions of S&E doctorates who received all of their college education (baccalaureate through doctorate) in the United States (table 2 in Appendix B). Reasons for those high proportions vary by country and include foreign government programs promoting mobility as well as the unavailability of comparable programs in the home countries.

Special tabulations for 1994 Ph.D. recipients provide a picture of the foreign institutions that play a prominent role in the baccalaureate education of foreign citizens who came to the United States to earn a research doctorate. The top 25 foreign institutions with large numbers of graduates who went on to earn a doctorate in the U.S. are shown in table 20 in Appendix B. All of these top universities are in (the People's Republic of) China, India, Korea, or Taiwan. Together these top 25 institutions accounted for 31 percent of the baccalaureate-origins of 1994 foreign Ph.D. recipients in S&E.[5]

Impact of Foreign Students

In graduate schools of engineering, faculty often teach students who have been educated outside the United States. What is the impact of large numbers of students from foreign countries in the classroom? A recent report, Boon or Bane, determined that faculty "did not to any great extent take the national composition of their graduate students into account in defining the content of the subject matter to be taught." The authors reported that the baccalaureate educational background of foreign students "provides in many instances a high level of theoretical sophistication." In terms of communication, however, almost half of faculty reported they had "made special efforts to accommodate the foreign students' difficulties in oral comprehension." [4]


[3] Susan T. Hill, "Non-U.S. Citizens Were 40 Percent of S&E Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities in 1995" (Arlington, VA.: National Science Foundation, 1996), NSF 96-315, p.1. More detailed data are also

available in: Susan T. Hill, Selected Data on Science and Engineering Doctorates: 1995 (Arlington, VA.: National Science Foundation, 1996), NSF 96-303.

[4] Robert Morgan and Elinor Barber, Boon or Bane (New York: Institute for International Education, 1988).

[5] For a list of all baccalaureate-origin institutions in foreign countries of 1994 S&E doctorate recipients, see table 19 in Appendix B.