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Survey of Earned Doctorates

Overview Bullet 1 Survey Design Bullet 2 Survey Quality Measures Bullet 3 Trend Data Bullet 4 Availability of Data

1. Overview (2012 survey cycle) Top of Page.

a. Purpose

The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) began in 1957–58 to collect data continuously on the number and characteristics of individuals receiving research doctoral degrees from all accredited U.S. institutions. The results of this annual survey are used to assess characteristics and trends in doctorate education and degrees. This information is vital for educational and labor force planners within the federal government and in academia. The SED is sponsored by the following six federal agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) monitors the contract to conduct the SED. NORC at the University of Chicago has been conducting the survey for the federal sponsors since 1998. From 1957 to 1997, the SED was conducted by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences under contract to NCSES.

b. Respondents

All individuals receiving research doctorates from accredited U.S. institutions are asked to complete the SED. A research doctorate is a doctoral degree that (1) requires the completion of an original intellectual contribution in the form of a dissertation or an equivalent culminating project (e.g., musical composition) and (2) is not primarily intended as a degree for the practice of a profession. The most common research doctorate degree is the PhD. Recipients of professional doctoral degrees such as MD, DDS, JD, DPharm, and PsyD are not included in the SED. Each U.S. graduate school is asked to provide the SED to their doctoral graduates and return completed forms to the NSF survey contractor. Respondents are grouped into academic years; the 2012 SED covers the period from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012.

c. Key variables

The SED collects information on the individual's education, characteristics, and postgraduation plans. Key variables of interest include the following:

  • Academic institution of doctorate
  • Baccalaureate-origin institution (U.S. and foreign)
  • Birth year
  • Citizenship status at graduation
  • Country of birth and citizenship
  • Disability status
  • Educational attainment of parents
  • Educational history in college
  • Field of each degree earned (N=318 fields)
  • Graduate and undergraduate educational debt
  • Marital status, as well as the number and age of dependents
  • Postgraduation plans (work, postdoc, other study or training)
    • Primary and secondary work activities
    • Source and type of financial support for postdoctoral study or research
    • Type and location of employer
    • Basic annual salary
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Sex
  • Sources of financial support during graduate school
  • Type of academic institution (e.g., historically black institutions, Carnegie codes, control) awarding the doctorate

2. Survey Design Top of Page.

a. Target population and sample frame

The population for the 2012 SED consisted of all individuals receiving a research doctorate from a U.S. academic institution in the 12-month period ending 30 June 2012. The total universe included over 51,000 persons from 418 research doctorate-granting institutions.

b. Sample design

The SED is a census of all individuals receiving a research doctorate from a U.S. institution in the academic year (1 July through 30 June of the next year).

c. Data collection techniques

Three modes of data collection are used in the SED: self-administered paper surveys, Web-based surveys, and computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI). Paper surveys were mailed to institutional coordinators in the graduate schools who then distributed the surveys to students receiving research doctorates. The institutional coordinators collected the completed surveys and returned them to the NSF survey contractor for editing and processing. Since 2001, a Web-based SED option has been available. At some universities, institutional coordinators distributed paper surveys and a link to the SED survey registration website to students when they applied for graduation; at other universities institutional coordinators distributed a link to the survey registration website without providing paper surveys. Upon registering at the SED survey website, students received PIN and password information via e-mail, as well as the URL of the Web-based SED. The NSF survey contractor used both paper and the Web-based survey to conduct follow-up interviews with nonrespondents. The proportion of completed surveys from respondents using the Web-based SED has increased each year since 2001, and in 2012, it reached 63%. Beginning in 2005, CATI was used to administer an abbreviated questionnaire to nonrespondents. Approximately 1%–2% of SED respondents use the CATI-based SED each year. The NSF survey contractor also mailed a paper survey to individual respondents and institutions when critical SED questionnaire items were missing.

During SED data collection, it is essential to collect a complete college education history. To code this data, the SED uses the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) coding frame for the U.S. institutions where doctorate recipients earned their baccalaureate and master's degrees. Approximately one-third of doctorate recipients from U.S. universities are citizens of foreign countries. A coding manual for foreign institutions of higher education developed by the U.S. Department of Education, "Mapping the World of Education: The Comparative Database System," is used as the basis for coding the foreign institutions where doctorate recipients earned their earlier degrees. The list of foreign institutions in the “Mapping the World” database is updated annually by the NSF survey contractor using verbatim responses to identify institutions missing from the database.

d. Estimation techniques

The survey is a census, which does not require any sampling; weighting is not used to adjust for nonresponse.

3. Survey Quality Measures Top of Page.

a. Sampling variability

Because this is a census, there is no variability due to sampling.

b. Coverage

Due to the availability of comprehensive lists of doctorate-granting institutions and their high levels of participation in the survey, coverage error of institutions is minimal. Because the graduate schools collect the questionnaires from degree recipients at the time of doctorate completion, coverage error for the universe of doctorate recipients is also minimal. Comparisons of the institutions and the number of research doctorate recipients covered by the SED with the total number of doctorate recipients (including nonresearch doctorate degree recipients) reported by institutions to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) confirm that there is minimal coverage error of doctorate recipients. Institutions that begin to confer research doctorates are asked to join the SED. If a university that confers research doctorates does not wish to participate in the SED, slight undercounts may result.

c. Nonresponse

(1) Unit nonresponse: Of the 51,008 new research doctorates granted in 2012, 92% completed the SED. Records for nonrespondents are constructed from limited information (doctoral institution, year of doctorate, field of doctorate, type of doctorate, and, if available, baccalaureate institution, master's degree institution, and sex) collected from commencement programs, graduation lists, and other similar public records. Student nonresponse was concentrated in certain institutions. The 42 institutions with the highest percentage of students not responding accounted for 66% of the total number of nonrespondents.

(2) Item nonresponse: Item nonresponse rates in 2012 for the key SED demographic variables ranged from 0.1% for sex to 7.8% for location after graduation (see below). No imputation was performed for missing data items.

Key variables Item response rate
Sex 99.9
Citizenship 93.5
Country of citizenship 93.3
Race and ethnicity 92.7
Postdoctoral location (U.S. or foreign) 92.2

d. Measurement

Measurement error in the SED is attributable to several sources, including error (calculated at less than 1%) in recording respondent data, and coding error (calculated at 0.34%) for some variables due to the difficulty of defining some concepts, such as field of specialization. For example, an SED respondent may classify his or her field of specialty differently than the department or university does in its institutional reporting for the NCES Completions Survey. In addition, between the SED and the NCES Completions Survey differences can exist in counts of doctorates for some fields because the NCES Completions Survey reports both research and nonresearch doctorates in the total number of doctorates and the SED reports only research doctorates.

e. Quality profile

A methodology report, including a quality profile, for the 2012 SED is available upon request. A list of methodological research concerning the SED is also available upon request.

4. Trend Data Top of Page.

Each year's survey data are compiled into the Doctorate Records File (DRF) and trend data are available back to 1957–58; more limited information (sex, institution, field, and year of doctorate) is contained on the DRF for PhDs who graduated from 1920–56.

5. Availability of Data Top of Page.

a. Publications

The data from this survey are published annually in a publication series reporting on all fields of study, the latest edition of which is Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2012; this interagency report is sponsored by the federal agencies that support the SED.

Additional data from this survey for earlier years are published in Science and Engineering Doctorates: 1960–91 (NSF 93-301). Also available is the interagency report U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century, which provides an overview of the development of a national resource—the American system of doctoral education—from 1900 to 1999.

Information from the survey is also included in the series Science and Engineering Degrees, in Science and Engineering Degrees, by Race/Ethnicity of Recipients, in Science and Engineering Indicators, and in Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering.

b. Electronic access

Access to tabular data on selected variables from 1966 onward is available through WebCASPAR, on the NCSES website. Beginning with the 2007 SED, data on race and ethnicity, sex, and citizenship status of doctorate recipients are no longer available within WebCASPAR. The following variables remain available for analysis: academic institution (both the doctorate-granting institution and the baccalaureate-granting institution of doctorate recipients), institutional control (public versus private), highest degree awarded, state, and academic discipline (both detailed and broad categories). Reducing the number of SED variables available in WebCASPAR is a part of a larger program to strengthen the confidentiality protections applied to SED data while still meeting the needs of SED data users.

To continue to provide data users with access to race and ethnicity, sex, and citizenship data from 2007 onward, NCSES developed a new data access tool, the SED Tabulation Engine. This tool is designed to display estimates that do not disclose personally identifiable information in tables using race and ethnicity, sex, or citizenship variables. It provides users with the ability to generate statistics using all of the SED variables previously available in WebCASPAR except baccalaureate institution and the highest degree awarded by those institutions. NCSES is exploring the possibility of adding the baccalaureate institution variable to the tabulation engine in a future release.

Access to restricted data for researchers interested in analyzing microdata can be arranged through a licensing agreement.

c. Contact for more information

Additional information about this survey can be obtained by contacting:

Mark Fiegener
SED Project Officer
Human Resources Statistics Program
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965
Arlington, VA 22230

Phone: (703) 292-4622

Last updated: December 05, 2013