Chapter 2: Higher Education in Science and Engineering


Chapter Overview

The importance of higher education in science and engineering is increasingly recognized around the world for its impact on innovation and economic development. S&E higher education provides the advanced skills needed for a competitive workforce and, particularly in the case of graduate S&E education, the research necessary for innovation. A number of key influences shape the nature of U.S. S&E higher education and its standing in the world.

In recent years, demographic trends and world events have contributed to changes in both the numbers and types of students participating in U.S. higher education. After declining in the 1990s, the U.S. college-age population is currently increasing and is projected to increase for the next decade. The composition of the college-age population is also changing, with Asians/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics becoming an increasing share of the population. Recent enrollment and degree trends reflect, to some degree, these changes. For example, graduate S&E enrollment and the number of S&E degrees at all levels are up, and the proportion of S&E degrees earned by minorities is increasing.

In the 1990s, the number of foreign students coming to the United States for higher education study, particularly from countries in Asia, increased substantially. The increases in foreign students contributed to most of the growth in overall S&E graduate enrollments in recent years. Although the number of foreign students remains high and is on the increase, the number of foreign students entering graduate school dropped since September 11, 2001. From fall 2002 to fall 2003, the number of foreign first-time full-time S&E graduate students dropped 8% (about 2,700 fewer students).

Finally, global competition in higher education is increasing. Although the United States has historically been a world leader in providing broad access to higher education and in attracting foreign students, many other countries are expanding their own higher education systems, providing comparable educational access to their own population and attracting large numbers of foreign students. In recent years, a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Australia, and Germany, have expanded their recruitment and enrollment of foreign S&E graduate students.

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Chapter Organization

This chapter describes the structure, student inputs, and degree outputs of the U.S. higher education system, followed by (and set in the context of) a description of increasing world capacity for advanced S&E education. It begins with characteristics of higher education institutions providing S&E education, and freshmen interest and enrollment in S&E fields. Trends in degree completions and postdoctoral study are discussed, including trends by sex, race/ethnicity, and citizenship; patterns of financial support while in graduate school; and doctoral degree student debt. The chapter highlights the flows of foreign students into the United States by country and their intentions to remain in this country. The chapter then presents various international higher education indicators, including comparative S&E degree production in several world regions and the growing dependence of all industrialized countries on foreign graduate S&E students.

National Science Board.