Chapter 2: Higher Education in Science and Engineering

Structure of U.S. Higher Education

Higher education institutions in the United States are diverse in terms of highest degree granted (associate's, bachelor's, master's, doctorate), institutional control (public or private), size, mission, and learning environment (NCES 2004a). New institutional forms featuring (alone or in combination) control by profit-making firms, certificate programs designed to enhance specific skills, or primary reliance on distance education have also emerged in recent years. Thus far, however, these new forms play a limited role in S&E education.

Institutions Providing S&E Education

In 2002, approximately 2,500 accredited institutions of higher education in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories and outlying areas awarded more than 1.8 million bachelor's or higher degrees, about 540,000 of them in S&E. In addition, approximately 1,700 2-year institutions primarily offer associate's degrees as the highest award (NCES 2004b). Two-year institutions are the largest segment of the higher education enterprise in the United States, accounting for 41% of all academic institutions. They provide S&E coursework that is affordable, remedial, and transferable (see sidebar "New Directions in Community Colleges"). They also serve as a bridge for students who go on to major in S&E at 4-year institutions. Almost 29% of students who began at a community college in the 1995–96 academic year had transferred to a 4-year institution as of 2001 (NCES 2003). Community colleges are not, however, major sources of degrees in S&E fields.

Research institutions, although few in number, are the leading producers of S&E bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree holders (figure 2-1 figure.; appendix table 2-1 Excel table.). (See sidebar "Carnegie Classification of Academic Institutions," for definitions of academic institution types.) In 2002, they awarded 81% of S&E doctoral degrees, half of the master's degrees, and 42% of the bachelor's degrees in S&E fields. Master's (or comprehensive) institutions awarded another 28% of S&E bachelor's degrees and 24% of S&E master's degrees in 2002 (appendix table 2-2 Excel table.).

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New Institutional Forms

Certificate programs, private for-profit colleges and universities, and various forms of industrial learning centers play a small but growing role in S&E higher education. Information technology (IT) is amplifying the delivery and learning of S&E within both traditional and nontraditional institutions.

Certificate programs have become a popular means for students to gain particular skills, for universities to be flexible in a changing environment, and for industry to upgrade the skills of its workers in emerging and rapidly changing fields. General characteristics of certificate programs are a focus on practical skills (e.g., hazardous waste management and infection control); fewer course requirements than for a degree; and, in many cases, an interdisciplinary scope (e.g., geographic information science). In 2002, about 22,300 S&E certificates were awarded in U.S. colleges and universities, up from about 4,100 in 1983 (table 2-1 table.). Most (77%) were in computer sciences. Education units of various corporations (e.g., Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, and Novell) also offer certificate programs.

Private for-profit institutions are growing in numbers and becoming increasingly important degree-granting institutions in certain fields. In 2002, about 2,500 private for-profit institutions in the United States accounted for about 5% of higher education enrollment (NCES 2004b, 2005b). About two-thirds of those students are enrolled in nondegree-granting institutions. However, for-profit institutions are among the top schools in the United States awarding degrees in certain fields. For example, Nova Southeastern University is among the largest awarders of doctoral degrees in psychology and education; DeVry Institute of Technology, Strayer College, and the University of Phoenix are among the largest awarders of bachelor's degrees in computer sciences; and the University of Phoenix is among the top awarders of master's degrees in business.

Various types of industrial learning centers, including corporate "universities," independent nonprofit institutions, and for-profit and nonprofit subsidiaries of institutions constitute another new institutional form delivering education in the United States. From 1988 to 2001, the number of corporate universities grew from 400 to 2,000 (National Research Council 2002). Most primarily offer noncredit, nondegree courses narrowly targeted at retraining the workforce and other company needs. However, some large industries have internal training at a higher education level in engineering and design, for example, Motorola University contracts with 1,200 faculty worldwide who teach business and engineering.

Independent nonprofit institutions also provide training geared specifically to corporate needs. These institutions offer credit courses and degree programs through IT and distance education. Institutions such as the Western Governors University and the United States Open University are recently formed examples. Since 1984, the National Technological University (NTU), a consortium of some 540 institutions, has been developing and offering courses and degree programs for engineering-oriented companies. The programs target engineering professionals interested in obtaining master's degrees in 1 of 18 engineering, technical, or business areas. All 1,300 academic courses offered by NTU are supplied by 52 leading engineering universities, including 25 of the top engineering schools in the country (National Research Council 2002).

For-profit and nonprofit subsidiaries of institutions and partnerships between 4-year institutions and private companies comprise another type of industry learning center. Duke Corporate Education and eCornell are examples of for-profit or nonprofit subsidiaries of postsecondary education institutions. Both offer credit and noncredit courses to individuals and corporate universities. Many of their courses are offered online and draw from a worldwide student base (Blumenstyk 2003). Motorola has partnerships with traditional institutions for sharing technology, faculty, and facilities. For example, Motorola is part of a doctoral program at the International Institute of Information Technology (formerly the Indian Institute of Information Technology) in Hyderabad, India, and degree programs at Morehouse College in Atlanta and Roosevelt University in Chicago (Wiggenhorn 2000).

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National Science Board.