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Science and Engineering Indicators 2004
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Chapter 2:
Structure of U.S. Higher Education

Enrollment in Higher Education

Higher Education Degrees
Foreign Doctoral Degree Recipients
International S&E Higher Education

Higher Education in Science and Engineering

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Structure of U.S. Higher Education top of page
  • The U.S. higher education system provides broad access to varied institutions, which differ in size, type of administrative control (public or private), selectivity, and focus. The system gives students flexibility in moving between institutions, transferring credits, entering and leaving schools, and switching between full- and part-time status. (More...)

  • Research and doctorate-granting universities produce most of the undergraduate engineering degrees (78 percent in 2000) and about half of the degrees in natural, agricultural, and social sciences. However, master's and liberal arts institutions produce most of the undergraduate degrees in mathematics and computer sciences. (More...)

  • A higher percentage of baccalaureate recipients study science and engineering at research universities and selective liberal arts colleges than at other kinds of institutions. Over the past 30 years, these S&E-focused institutions accounted for a declining percentage of higher education enrollments. (More...)

  • Historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions are important sources of S&E bachelor's degrees earned by minority students. These institutions granted about one-third of all S&E baccalaureates awarded to blacks and Hispanics. (More...)

  • The fastest-growing major segment of higher education is community colleges. These institutions are a bridge for students who want to attend 4-year colleges. Some S&E graduates earned credits at community colleges toward their degrees. (More...)

  • Universities and colleges are increasingly using advanced information technology and distance education; however, distance education remains limited in S&E fields. Fewer than 10 percent of students in S&E fields took courses through distance education. (More...)
Enrollment in Higher Education top of page
  • In the late 1990s, the U.S. college-age population reversed its 2-decade-long decline and began an upward trend. After decreasing from 21.5 million in 1981 to 17.4 million in 1997, the college-age population reached 18.5 million by the 2000 census and is expected to increase to 21.7 million by 2015. (More...)

  • Increased enrollment will come from minority groups, principally Hispanics, a group traditionally underrepresented in S&E. Between 1992 and 1998, overall enrollment increased by 1 percent, that of underrepresented minorities by 16 percent, and that of Asian/Pacific Islanders by 36 percent. (More...)

  • Interest in S&E study is high among freshmen, and their coursework preparation to study S&E appears as good as in the past. However, 20 percent of those intending an S&E major reported needing remediation in mathematics, and 10 percent needed remediation in science. (More...)

  • A number of studies find that women and underrepresented minorities leave S&E programs at higher rates than men and white students, resulting in lower degree completion rates for women and underrepresented minorities. (More...)

  • Enrollment in U.S. S&E graduate education peaked at 435,700 in 1993, declined through 1998, and rose to near its record level by 2001. Graduate enrollment in engineering and computer sciences drove the recent growth, mostly because of foreign students. Enrollment in most other science fields remained level or declined. (More...)

  • Fluctuation in graduate S&E enrollment from 1994 to 2001 reflects a decline of 10 percent in enrollment by U.S. citizens and permanent residents, balanced by an increase of nearly 35 percent in foreign graduate S&E enrollment. A 26 percent drop among white men and 9 percent drop among white women drove the U.S. decline. U.S. minority enrollment increased by 22–35 percent. Foreign enrollment declined from 1992 to 1996, returned to its former level by 1999, and reached an all-time high in 2001. (More...)

  • One in five S&E graduate students received primary support from the Federal Government in 2001. The support was mostly in the form of research assistantships (RAs)—67 percent, up from 55 percent 2 decades earlier—and was offset by declining traineeships. For students supported through non-Federal sources, teaching assistantships were the most prominent mechanism (40 percent), followed by RAs (32 percent). (More...)

  • For doctoral students, notable differences exist in primary support mechanisms by sex, race/ethnicity, and citizenship. Men are most likely to be supported by RAs (38 percent), whereas women are most likely to support themselves from personal sources of funds (34 percent). Whites and Asian/Pacific Islanders are most likely to derive primary support from RAs (26 and 31 percent, respectively), whereas underrepresented minorities depend more on fellowships (36 percent). The primary source of support for foreign doctoral students is an RA (43 percent). (More...)
Higher Education Degrees top of page
  • The ratio of bachelor's degrees in natural, agricultural, and computer sciences; mathematics; and engineering (NS&E) to the population cohort stood between 4 and 5 per 100 for several decades but increased to 5.7 in the late 1990s, largely on the strength of increases in the number of computer science baccalaureates. (More...)

  • The annual output of S&E bachelor's degrees rose steadily from 303,800 in the mid-1970s to 398,600 in 2000. They represented approximately one-third of all baccalaureates for the period. These consistent trends mask considerable variations among fields. (More...)

  • Over the past quarter-century, women and members of minority groups earned greater proportions of S&E bachelor's degrees, as the percentage of degrees earned by white students declined from 87 to 68 percent. By 2000, women earned half the degrees, up from one-third. Degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities rose from 9 to 16 percent, and those awarded to Asian/Pacific Islanders increased from 2 to 9 percent. (More...)

  • Despite the considerable progress of underrepresented minorities in earning bachelor's degrees between 1990 and 2000, the gap in educational attainment between these groups and whites remains wide, especially in S&E fields. In 2000, underrepresented minority groups earned 17.9 percent of any type of college degree per 100 24-year-olds, about half the ratio earned by whites. The gap between these minorities and whites is even larger for NS&E degrees. (More...)

  • Increasing numbers of S&E doctoral degree recipients are women, minorities, or foreign; the share of U.S. whites decreased from 71 percent in 1977 to 50 percent in 2001. The share of doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens declined from 77 to 59 percent. (More...)

  • Noncitizens accounted for most of the growth in U.S. S&E doctorates from the late 1980s through 2001. Their annual growth rate for earning degrees during this period was 3 percent, approximately three times that for U.S. citizens. (More...)
Foreign Doctoral Degree Recipients top of page
  • From 1985 to 2001, students from China, Taiwan, India, and South Korea earned more than half of the 148,000 U.S. S&E doctoral degrees awarded to foreign students, which is four times the number awarded to students from Europe. (More...)

  • Nearly 30 percent of the actively employed S&E doctorate holders in the United States are foreign born, as are many postdocs. Most foreign-born doctorate holders working in the United States obtained their degrees in the United States. (More...)

  • Foreign students earning U.S. S&E doctorates are increasingly planning to stay in the United States after degree receipt. In the period 1998–2001, 76 percent of foreign doctoral degree recipients in S&E fields planned to stay in the United States, and 54 percent had firm offers to do so. (More...)

  • Stay rates vary by place of origin, with many Chinese and Indian students staying and most South Korean and Taiwanese doctoral degree recipients leaving after degree receipt. Stay rates of graduates from France, Italy, and Germany have increased well above their long-term average; stay rates of Eastern European doctoral degree recipients are exceeded only by those of Indian doctoral degree recipients. (More...)
International S&E Higher Education top of page
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, the college-age cohort decreased in all major industrialized countries, although at different times, with different durations, and to varying degrees. To produce enough S&E graduates for increasingly knowledge-intensive societies, industrialized countries have encouraged a higher proportion of their citizens to obtain a higher education, have trained a higher proportion in S&E, and have recruited S&E students from other countries, especially from the developing world. (More...)

  • Although the United States has historically been a world leader in providing broad access to higher education, many other countries now provide comparable access. The U.S. ratio of bachelor's degrees earned to the college-age population remains high (33.8 per 100 in 2000). However, nine other countries now provide a college education to approximately one-third or more of their college-age population, and others are expanding access. (More...)

  • The proportion of the college-age population earning NS&E degrees is substantially higher in more than 16 locations in Asia and Europe than in the United States. In the United States, the ratio has gradually increased from between 4 and 5 to 5.7 per 100 over 3 decades. South Korea and Taiwan increased their ratios from 2 per 100 in 1975 to 11 per 100 in 2000–01, and several European countries have doubled and tripled their ratios, reaching figures between 8 and 11 per 100. (More...)

  • The 1990s witnessed a worldwide increase in the number of students going abroad for higher education study to the well-established universities in the United States, United Kingdom, and France, with the largest increases at the graduate level in S&E fields. However, universities in other countries, including Japan, Canada, and Germany, also expanded their enrollment of foreign S&E graduate students. (More...)

  • The proportion of doctoral S&E degrees earned by foreign students, particularly in engineering, mathematics, and computer sciences, is increasing in the major host countries. In 2001, noncitizens earned 56 percent of the doctoral engineering degrees awarded in the United States, 51 percent in the United Kingdom, and 22 percent in France. They earned 49 percent of the mathematics and computer science doctorates awarded in the United States, 44 percent in the United Kingdom, and 29 percent in France. (More...)

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