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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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Chapter Overview
Chapter Organization

Chapter Overview  top of page

Modern societies are committed to fostering economic growth through scientific and technological innovations developed by an educated workforce trained in institutions of higher education. In the United States and around the world, such institutions have expanded to enroll and graduate increasing numbers of students in science and engineering at all levels.

Scientific, technological, and demographic changes are altering the face of higher education. As science changes to become more interdisciplinary and mathematical, higher education must adapt to demands for new skills. Information technology (IT) facilitates new, more flexible modes of delivering higher education and, by making scientific data more readily accessible to students, opens new possibilities for learning. Demographically, college-age cohorts have grown smaller in the major industrialized countries. Young, native-born males, typically a prime source of S&E graduates, are a smaller proportion of the college population. In the United States, higher education increasingly serves women and minorities—groups that are historically underrepresented—and older students, among S&E graduates. Colleges and universities confront the challenge of training students from these hitherto underrepresented groups.

Foreign students are playing an increasing role in higher education throughout the industrialized world. U.S. higher education has benefited from an influx of foreign S&E enrollees, who play a large role in graduate education and as research and teaching assistants on U.S. campuses. Many of them remain in the United States and become part of the workforce. Whether more stringent security measures in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, will affect the role of foreign students is yet unknown.

Chapter Organization  top of page

This chapter describes some characteristics of the U.S. institutions that deliver higher education, paying special attention to new and emerging practices and institutional forms. It then profiles the students who enroll in higher education and receive degrees, especially in S&E, disaggregating the data by sex, field of study, race/ethnicity, and citizenship at the various levels of education. Because doctoral-level scientists and engineers are so important to science and technology (S&T) innovation and competitiveness, a section is devoted to the flow of doctoral students to the United States and back to their countries of origin. The chapter closes by considering patterns and trends in degree production in other countries, especially those that are advanced and rapidly advancing.

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