The National Science Foundation.

Science and Engineering Doctorates: 2011

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What influences the path to the doctorate?

Some paths to the doctoral degree are less traveled and some are more difficult to navigate, owing to a variety of influences that shape doctoral study. These paths may lead to different postgraduate destinations.

 

Highest parental educational attainment: 1991–2011

(Percent doctorate recipients)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011. Related detailed data: tables 33, 34.

Parental education: Overview

The parents of recent doctorate recipients are better educated than the parents of those who preceded them. The share of doctorate recipients from families in which neither parent has earned more than a high school degree is declining, and the proportion of families in which at least one parent has earned a bachelor's degree or higher continues to climb.



Parental educational attainment, by race/ethnicity: 1991–2011

(Percent having at least one parent with a bachelor's degree or higher)
NOTE: Percentages are based on doctorate recipients who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities 2011. Related detailed data: tables 33, 34.

Parental education: By race and ethnicity

A pattern of rising educational attainment for parents of recent doctorate recipients over the past 20 years has been observed across all racial/ethnic groups. Nonetheless, doctorate recipients from underrepresented minority groups are less likely to have at least one parent with a bachelor's degree than are Asian and white doctorate recipients.

As of 2011, about half of American Indian or Alaska Native, black or African American, and Hispanic or Latino doctorate recipients belonged to families in which neither parent had been awarded a college degree. In contrast, nearly three-fourths of Asian and white doctorate recipients came from families with at least one college-educated parent, and nearly half of Asian and white doctorate recipients had at least one parent with an advanced degree.

Doctorates awarded by "very high research activity" institutions in science and engineering fields of study: 1991–2011

(Percent)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011. Related detailed data: table 11.

Institution: S&E

In all broad science and engineering (S&E) fields of study, the majority of doctoral degrees are awarded by research universities classified as being "very high research activity" institutions according to the Carnegie Foundation's classification of institutions of higher education (2010 revision).

The proportion of doctorates awarded by the "very high research activity" universities decreased from 1991 to 2001 in all broad S&E fields of study, with the largest declines in life sciences and physical sciences. The downward trend has continued in all broad S&E fields since 2001, although most of this latter decline has occurred since 2008.

Doctorates awarded by "very high research activity" institutions in non-science and engineering fields of study: 1991–2011

(Percent)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011. Related detailed data: table 11.

Institution: Non-S&E

The majority of doctoral degrees in non-S&E fields of study are awarded by universities classified as being "very high research activity" institutions. The proportion of doctorates awarded by the "very high research activity" institutions decreased in all three broad non-S&E fields from 1991 to 2001, with education showing the sharpest decline. The gradual downward trend has continued since 2001 for humanities, but education and other non-S&E fields have shown an increase over the past decade in the proportion of doctorates awarded by "very high research activity" institutions. (The large increase in education doctorates awarded by "very high research activity" institutions in 2011 is attributable to the reclassification of the doctor of education degree programs.)

Median time to degree in science and engineering fields of study: 1991–2011

Years (graduate school entry to doctorate)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011. Related detailed data: tables 31, 32.

Time to degree: S&E

The time between entering graduate school and earning the doctorate has declined in all S&E fields of study over the past 15 years, with life sciences showing the largest decline in median time to degree (1.0 years). Since 2006, however, there has been little change in the time to degree of doctorate recipients in S&E fields. In particular, the time to degree in physical sciences has remained constant (6.7 years) since 1998.

Median time to degree in non-science and engineering fields of study: 1991–2011

Years (graduate school entry to doctorate)
Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011. Related detailed data: tables 31, 32.

Time to degree: Non-S&E

The time between entering graduate school and earning the doctorate has declined in all non-S&E fields of study over the past 15 years, particularly in education (a decline in median time to degree of 4.2 years). Despite drops in the time it takes to earn a non-S&E doctorate, it continues to take longer to complete doctorates in these fields than it does to complete doctoral training in S&E fields.

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