Governments around the world are expanding access to higher education
to develop an educated workforce that will contribute to economic
growth and competitiveness. Many countries have successfully increased
the rate at which their college-age citizens earn S&E degrees.
The United States has been less successful in this regard, particularly
in the combined natural sciences, mathematics, computer sciences,
and engineering fields that are considered critical to technological
innovation. At the same time, mature industrial countries facing
adverse demographic shifts are considering strategies to import
highly trained foreign labor, especially from developing nations.
In the United States, freshmen continue to show considerable interest
in S&E fields and appear to be no less prepared to undertake
such study than they were 1 or 2 decades ago. However, sizable numbers
indicate a need for remedial instruction in mathematics and the
sciences, perhaps indicating weak spots in students' secondary education.
In any case, as the number of U.S. bachelor's degrees has expanded,
the share going to S&E degrees has held steady. However, shifts
among S&E fields have been toward biological, social, and behavioral
sciences and away from physical sciences and engineering.
Demographic trends that will shape U.S. higher education can already
be seen. Women now represent the majority of students; they also
earn most of the bachelor's degrees and half of the bachelor's degrees
in S&E. Minority students from all groups are earning greater
degree shares, with faster progress at the lower degree levels than
at the doctorate level. As the share of underrepresented minorities
in the college-age population grows, it is critical to entice them
into S&E fields, where their attainment gap with whites remains
At advanced education levels, these trends come into sharper focus.
Declining numbers of white men complete advanced S&E training;
some of the women's numbers are also becoming flat or declining.
Growing populations of minority groups counterbalance some of this
trend, but growth in advanced S&E degrees primarily reflects
strongly rising numbers of foreign students.
Through 2001, the last year of available data, the U.S. retained
and even increased its attractiveness to these foreign students.
The rate at which doctoral students remained here after receipt
of their doctorate rose well above longer-term averages during the
late 1990s. In the period 19982001, 76 percent reported plans to
stay, and 54 percent had firm commitments to do so.
Nonetheless, the worldwide economic downturns and the events of
September 11, 2001, introduce uncertainties into this picture. The
latter especially has long-term ramifications, and even the initial
impact is not yet captured in these data. Some evidence suggests
that lower numbers of student and exchange visas are being granted.
At this writing, it is unclear to what extent this evidence represents
fewer applications, slower or more critical processing, a change
in relative economic conditions, or a combination of these and other
These developments occur in the context of continuing extension
of global markets; worldwide reach of networks of scientific and
technical activity, cooperation, and competition; and global flows
of highly trained personnel. As government efforts to develop centers
of excellence bear fruit, and as industry locates in developing
markets and regions with newly developed technological competency,
continuing shifts will take place in the international distribution
of jobs and employment requiring high skill levels and technically
sophisticated training. The shifts will, in turn, elicit responses
from worldwide higher education systems.