Chapter 2: Higher Education in Science and Engineering


The United States continues to be a world leader in S&E higher education. American freshmen continue to show interest in S&E fields. The number of S&E bachelor's degrees has held steady at about one-third of all bachelor's degrees in the United States. Meanwhile, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded in all fields and in S&E fields has continued to increase. Graduate enrollment in S&E fields is also increasing, reaching a new peak in 2003. The number of S&E doctorates awarded also increased in 2003.

Women now earn half of bachelor's degrees in S&E, although they earn much lower shares in some fields. Minority students from all groups are earning growing shares of S&E degrees at all levels. Underrepresented minorities (blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives) do not participate in higher education in the same proportion as whites, but among those who complete bachelor's degrees, similar percentages of underrepresented minorities and whites earn their degrees in S&E fields.

Foreign students continue to be a large presence in U.S. S&E graduate education. Foreign student enrollment in graduate S&E programs continues to increase. Students on temporary visas earned about one-third of S&E doctorates in the United States in 2003 and more than half of the engineering doctorates. An increasing fraction of them stay in the United States: about three-quarters of foreign doctoral degree recipients in 2003 planned to stay in the United States after graduation.

However, many other countries are now increasing their capacity for higher education and many attract large numbers of foreign students. In recent years, universities in other countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and Germany, expanded their enrollment of foreign S&E graduate students. And, although total foreign graduate enrollment in the United States is still increasing, first-time enrollment of foreign students has decreased in some fields in the past several years as a result of visa restrictions after the events of September 11, 2001, growth in non-U.S. higher education institutions, or declines in U.S. demand for engineers and computer scientists.

National Science Board.