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Higher Education Degrees
S&E degrees accounted for almost two-thirds of all doctoral degrees and almost one-third of all bachelor's degrees awarded in 2002. However, S&E fields account for relatively few associate's or master's degrees. Both the number of degrees overall and the number in S&E fields have been increasing over the past two decades. For information on the labor market conditions for recent S&E graduates, see "Labor Market Conditions for Recent S&E Graduates" in chapter 3 (S&E labor force) and "Trends in Academic Employment of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers" in chapter 5 (academic research and development).
Community colleges are often an important and relatively inexpensive gateway for students entering higher education. Associate's degrees, largely offered by 2-year programs at community colleges, are the terminal degree for some people, but others continue their education at 4-year colleges or universities and subsequently earn higher degrees. About 13% of all associate's degrees are awarded in S&E or engineering technology.
S&E associate's degrees from all types of academic institutions rose from 23,800 in 1983 to 42,200 in 2002. The increase in the late 1990s and the early 2000s was mainly attributed to computer sciences, which represented 64% of all S&E associate's degrees by 2002. In contrast, the number of associate's degrees awarded in engineering decreased. Degrees earned in engineering technology (not included in S&E degree totals because of their practice-focused nature) declined from 51,300 in 1983 to 31,600 in 2002 (appendix table
Women earned 45% of S&E associate's degrees in 2002, the same percentage they earned in 1983, and less than their percentage of S&E bachelor's degrees (51%). As is the case with men, computer sciences account for the majority of S&E associate's degrees earned by women (appendix tables
Trends in the number of associate's degrees earned by students' race/ethnicity are shown in appendix table
The baccalaureate is the most prevalent degree in S&E, accounting for 77% of all degrees awarded. S&E bachelor's degrees have consistently accounted for roughly one-third of all bachelor's degrees for the past two decades. Except for a brief downturn in the late 1980s, the number of S&E bachelor's degrees has risen steadily, from 317,600 in 1983 to 415,600 in 2002 (appendix table
Trends in the number of S&E bachelor's degrees vary widely among fields (figure
S&E Bachelor's Degrees by Sex
Women have outnumbered men in undergraduate education since 1982 and earned 58% of all bachelor's degrees in 2002. They have earned at least half of all S&E bachelor's degrees since 2000. Within S&E, men and women tend to study different fields. Men earned a majority of bachelor's degrees awarded in engineering, computer sciences, and physical sciences (79%, 73%, and 57%, respectively). Women earned more than half of the bachelor's degrees in psychology (78%), biological/agricultural sciences (59%), and social sciences (55%), and close to half in mathematics (47%) (figure
The number of bachelor's degrees awarded to women rose from 1983 through 2002 in all fields and in S&E as a whole, with a brief drop in numbers of engineering and natural sciences degrees in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In contrast, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to men in all fields and in S&E plateaued in the 1990s but increased in 2002. Within S&E, the number of engineering, physical sciences, and social and behavioral sciences degrees awarded to men dropped in the 1990s, whereas the number of bachelor's degrees in biological sciences generally increased.
In the past two decades, the racial/ethnic composition of those earning S&E bachelor's degrees has changed, reflecting both population change and increasing college attendance by members of minority groups. Between 1983 and 2002, the proportion of S&E degrees awarded to Asians/Pacific Islanders increased from 4% to 9%, and the proportion awarded to members of underrepresented minority groups grew from 9% to 16% (figure
Despite considerable progress for underrepresented minority groups between 1983 and 2002 in earning bachelor's degrees in any field, the gap in educational attainment between young minorities and whites continues to be wide. The percentage of blacks ages 25 to 29 with a bachelor's or higher degree rose from 13% in 1983 to 18% in 2003, whereas the percentage of Hispanics ages 25 to 29 with a bachelor's or higher degree was 10% in 1983 and 2003 (NCES 2005a). For whites ages 25 to 29, this percentage rose from 25% in 1983 to 34% in 2003. Differences in completion of bachelor's degrees in S&E by race/ethnicity reflect differences in high school completion rates, college enrollment rates, and college persistence and attainment rates. In general, blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites and Asians/Pacific Islanders to graduate from high school, to enroll in college, and to graduate from college (see "Transition to Higher Education" in chapter 1 for information on immediate post-high school college enrollment rates). Among high school graduates, the percentages of blacks and Hispanics ages 25 to 29 with a bachelor's or higher degree were 21% and 15%, respectively, in 2000, compared to 36% for whites (NCES 2001). Among those who do enroll in or graduate from college, however, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives are about as likely as whites to choose S&E fields; Asians/Pacific Islanders are more likely than members of other racial/ethnic groups to choose these fields. For Asians/Pacific Islanders, almost half of all bachelor's degrees received are in S&E, compared with about one-third of all bachelor's degrees earned by each of the other racial/ethnic groups.
The contrast in field distribution among whites, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives on the one hand and Asians/Pacific Islanders on the other is apparent within S&E fields as well. White, black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native S&E baccalaureate recipients share a similar distribution across broad S&E fields. In 2002, between 9% and 11% of all baccalaureate recipients in each of these racial/ethnic groups earned their degrees in the social sciences, 4% to 5% in the biological sciences, and 3% to 4% in engineering and in computer sciences. Asian/Pacific Islander baccalaureate recipients earned higher proportions of their baccalaureates in the biological sciences, computer sciences, and engineering (appendix table
Trends in bachelor's degrees over the past 20 years are similar in many ways for most racial/ethnic groups. For all racial/ethnic groups, the number of bachelor's degrees in engineering, physical sciences, and mathematics generally dropped or flattened out, especially since the mid-1990s. Degrees in biological sciences generally increased through the late 1990s, then dropped in recent years. Degrees in computer sciences fell in the early 1990s but increased steeply from 1998 through 2002. All racial/ethnic groups, except for whites, generally show an increase in total bachelor's degrees and in social/behavioral sciences bachelor's degrees. The total number of bachelor's degrees awarded in all fields and in social/behavioral sciences to white students was fairly flat from 1993 through 2001, then increased slightly in 2002 (appendix table
Bachelor's Degrees by Citizenship
Students on temporary visas in the United States earned a small share (4%) of S&E degrees at the bachelor's level. However, they earned 8% of bachelor's degrees awarded in computer sciences in 2002 and 7% of those awarded in engineering. The number of S&E bachelor's degrees awarded to students on temporary visas increased over the past two decades from about 14,100 in 1983 to 16,300 in 2002. Trends in the number of degrees by field generally followed the pattern noted above for all racial/ethnic groups except whites (appendix table
Master's degrees in S&E fields increased from 67,700 in 1983 to about 99,200 in 2002 (appendix table
Master's Degrees by Sex
Since 1983, the number of S&E master's degrees earned by women has more than doubled, rising from 21,000 to 43,500 (figure
Women's share of S&E master's degrees varies by field. In 2002, women earned a majority of master's degrees in psychology (76%), biological sciences (58%), and social sciences (54%); they earned their lowest share in engineering (21%) (appendix table
Master's Degrees by Race/Ethnicity
The number of S&E master's degrees awarded increased for all racial/ethnic groups from 1985 to 2002 (figure
Trends in the number of master's degrees by field were similar for most racial/ethnic groups. The number of master's degrees in physical sciences rose through the mid-1990s, then dropped through 2002. For all groups, the number of master's degrees in biological sciences and agricultural sciences generally rose through at least the late 1990s, and for all groups but whites and Asians/Pacific Islanders, master's degrees in engineering generally increased. Also, for all groups except white students, master's degrees in social and behavioral sciences and in computer sciences generally increased from 1983 through 2002. For white and Asian/Pacific Islander students, the number of engineering master's degrees dropped after the mid-1990s. For white students, the number of social and behavioral sciences master's degrees dropped from 1995 through 2002, and master's degrees in computer sciences dropped through 1997, then increased (appendix table
Master's Degrees by Citizenship
S&E master's degrees awarded to students on temporary visas rose from approximately 12,500 in 1983 to about 27,600 in 2002, and increased in most S&E fields during that period. The sole exception was physical sciences. During that period, the share of S&E master's degrees earned by temporary residents rose from 19% to 28%. Foreign students make up a much higher proportion of S&E master's degree recipients than they do of bachelor's or associate's degree recipients. Their degrees are heavily concentrated in computer sciences and engineering, where they earned 46% and 41%, respectively, of master's degrees in 2002 (appendix table
New Directions in Graduate Education
New directions in graduate education, including professional master's programs, the growth of certificate programs, and distance education, parallel those in undergraduate education. Professional master's degree programs often stress interdisciplinary training for work in emerging S&E fields. (See sidebar "Professional Master's Degree Programs.") Professional certificate programs at the graduate level are typically amenable to distance delivery at corporate sites. These programs include a coherent set of courses for a specialty, such as engineering management.
Global economic competition and the spreading conviction that highly educated workforces are key to successfully building growth economies have increased interest both in the United States and abroad in the supply of foreign and domestic doctorate recipients and their migration across borders.
The number of S&E doctorates conferred annually by U.S. universities rose from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, peaked in 1998, and then declined for the remainder of the 1990s. In 2003, the number of S&E doctorates increased slightly over the previous year. (For information on employment of recent doctorate recipients, see "Labor Market Conditions for Recent S&E Graduates" in chapter 3 [S&E labor force] and "Trends in Academic Employment of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers" in chapter 5 [academic research and development.]) The increase through 1998 largely reflected growth in the number of foreign degree recipients. The largest increases were in engineering, biological/agricultural sciences, and social and behavioral sciences degrees (figure
Among U.S. citizens, the proportion of S&E doctoral degrees earned by women has risen considerably in the past two decades, reaching a record high of 45% in 2003 (appendix table
The increase in the proportion of S&E doctoral degrees earned by women has been due to both an increase in the number of women and a decrease in the number of men earning such degrees. The number of U.S. citizen women earning doctorates in S&E increased from 4,325 in 1983 to 7,131 in 2003 (appendix table
Although the proportion of S&E doctoral degrees earned by white U.S. citizens decreased in the past two decades, the number of S&E doctorates earned remained relatively stable, fluctuating from around 12,000 to 14,000 degrees awarded annually. Doctoral S&E degrees earned by whites peaked at 14,166 in 1995, then declined slightly each year since, mainly in the fields of engineering, physical sciences, mathematics, and computer sciences. The share of all doctoral S&E degrees earned by white U.S. citizens decreased from 66% in 1983 to 47% in 2003. Their share of degrees awarded to all U.S. citizens declined from 90% to 79% (appendix table
The number of doctoral S&E degrees earned by white male U.S. citizens declined from a peak of more than 11,000 in 1975 to less than 7,000 in 2002 and 2003, accounting for most of the drop in doctoral S&E degrees earned by white U.S. citizens (figure
The number and proportion of doctoral degrees in S&E fields earned by U.S. citizen underrepresented minorities also increased over the past two decades. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives together earned about 1,500 S&E doctorates in 2003, accounting for 5% of all S&E doctorate degrees earned that year and up from 3% in 1983 (figure
In the mid-1990s, the number of doctoral degrees earned by Asian/Pacific Islander U.S. citizens showed a steep increase. Asians/Pacific Islanders earned just over 4% of S&E doctorates in 2003, up from 2% in 1983.
Noncitizens, primarily those with temporary visas, account for the bulk of the growth in S&E doctorates awarded by U.S. universities from 1983 through 2003. The number of S&E doctorate recipients with temporary visas rose dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s, accounting for almost one-third of S&E doctorate recipients in 2003.
During this period, the number of S&E doctorates earned by U.S. citizens fluctuated from approximately 14,000 to about 17,000, and the number earned by temporary residents rose from 3,500 to a peak of 8,700 in 2003. The temporary resident share of S&E doctorates rose from 18% in 1983 to 32% in 2003. The number of S&E doctorates earned by U.S. permanent residents increased from about 900 in 1983 to a peak of 3,614 in 1995 before falling to about 1,200 in 2003 (appendix table
Foreign students on temporary visas earn a larger proportion of degrees at the doctoral level than at any other level (figure
Countries/Economies of Origin
The top 10 foreign countries/economies of origin of foreign S&E doctorate recipients together accounted for 64% of all foreign recipients of a U.S. S&E doctorate from 1983 to 2003 (table
Asia. The number of U.S. S&E doctorates earned by students from Asia increased from the mid-1980s until the mid- to late 1990s, followed by a decline (figure
China had the largest number of students earning U.S. S&E doctorates during the 1983–2003 period. These students received more than 35,300 S&E doctoral degrees from U.S. universities, mainly in biological and physical sciences and engineering (table
Students from Taiwan received the second-largest number of S&E doctorates at U.S. universities. Between 1983 and 2003, students from Taiwan earned more than 19,700 S&E doctoral degrees, mainly in engineering and biological and physical sciences (table
Students from India earned more than 17,500 S&E doctoral degrees at U.S. universities over the period. Like students from China and Taiwan, they mainly earned doctorates in engineering and biological and physical sciences. They also earned by far the largest number of U.S. doctoral degrees awarded to any foreign group in computer sciences (table
Students from South Korea earned more than 17,000 U.S. S&E doctorates, mainly in engineering and biological, social, and physical sciences. The number of S&E doctoral degrees earned by South Korean students increased from about 250 in 1983 to about 1,200 in 1994, declined to a low of about 800 in the late 1990s, and increased slightly to almost 1,000 in 2003.
Europe. European students earned far fewer U.S. S&E doctorates than did Asian students, and they tended to focus less on engineering than did their Asian counterparts (table
The number of Eastern European students earning S&E doctorates at U.S. universities increased from fewer than 50 in 1983 to more than 700 in 2003 (figure
North America. The Canadian and Mexican shares of U.S. S&E doctoral degrees were small compared with those from Asia and Europe. The number of U.S. S&E degrees earned by students from Canada increased from less than 200 in 1983 to 350 in 2003. In all, 62% of Canadian doctoral degree students in U.S. universities earned S&E doctorates, mainly in social and biological sciences (figure
Almost 30% of employed S&E doctorate recipients in the United States are foreign born (see chapter 3), as are more than half of postdocs (appendix table
Until the early 1990s, about half of foreign students who earned S&E degrees at U.S. universities reported that they planned to stay in the United States after graduation, and about one-third said they had firm offers for postdoctoral study or employment (NSB 1998). In the 1990s, however, these percentages increased substantially. In the 1992–95 period, for example, of the foreign S&E doctoral degree recipients who reported their plans, 68% planned to remain in the United States after receiving their degree and 35% already had firm offers. By 2000–03, 74% of foreign doctoral recipients in S&E fields with known plans intended to stay in the United States and 51% had firm offers to do so (appendix table
Stay rates vary by place of origin. In the 2000–03 period, 64% of U.S. S&E doctoral recipients from China and 67% of those from India reported accepting firm offers for employment or postdoctoral research in the United States, up from 47% and 53%, respectively, in the period from 1992 to 1995 (figure
Doctoral Degrees by Time to Degree
The NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates tracks patterns and trends in the time it takes to earn an S&E doctorate. The survey measures time to degree in several ways, including median number of years between baccalaureate receipt and doctorate receipt (also known as total time to degree) and median number of years registered in graduate school between graduate entry and doctorate receipt (also known as registered time to degree).
Data on the time from baccalaureate to doctorate show increases from 1973 through the early 1990s, followed by declines in all S&E fields. Over the past three decades, increases ranged from about 6 months longer in engineering, physical sciences, and mathematics to nearly 3 years longer in social sciences (figure
Median registered time to degree, as measured by number of years registered in graduate school between entry and doctorate receipt, also followed a similar pattern of increase over the past 30 years for all fields. It averaged about 1 year longer in most S&E fields and almost 2 years longer in agricultural sciences, psychology, and social sciences. Among S&E fields in 2003, registered time to degree was shortest in the physical sciences (6.4 years) and longest in the social sciences (8.3 years).
Postdoctoral fellowships provide recent doctorate recipients with "an opportunity to develop further the research skills acquired in their doctoral programs or to learn new research techniques" (Association of American Universities 1998). Typically, postdoctoral fellows or postdocs have temporary appointments involving full-time research or scholarship whose purpose is to further their education and training. The titles associated with these positions and the conditions of employment vary widely. The status of post-doctoral fellows within the academic hierarchy is not well defined and varies among institutions, although the concept that the postdoctoral experience represents the last step on a person's training for becoming an independent investigator and faculty member is generally accepted (COSEPUP 2000, 2004).
Since 1983, the number of doctoral degree recipients with science, engineering, and health postdoctoral appointments at U.S. universities more than doubled from 20,700 in 1983 to 46,700 in 2003. Approximately two-thirds of those were in biological, medical, and other life sciences (figure
Noncitizens account for much of the increase in the number of S&E postdocs, especially in biological sciences and medical and other life sciences. The number of S&E postdocs with temporary visas at U.S. universities increased from approximately 7,500 in 1983 to 27,000 in 2003. The number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident S&E postdocs at these institutions increased more modestly from approximately 13,200 in 1983 to 19,700 in 2003 (figure
An increasing share of academic S&E postdocs are funded through federal research grants. In fall 2003, 56% of S&E postdocs at U.S. universities were funded through this mechanism, up from 48% in 1983. Federal fellowships and traineeships fund a declining share of S&E postdocs—14% in 2003, down from 24% in 1983. In 2003, the remainder (about 30%) of S&E postdocs were funded through nonfederal sources (table
Although the majority of postdocs are employed in academic institutions, federal agencies and federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) also employ sizable numbers of postdocs. NIH, for example, employed approximately 2,600 intramural postdocs in 2004 (NIH, Office of the Director, internal report). In 2003, almost 3,000 postdocs were employed in FFRDCs, which are federally funded but administered by universities and colleges, industrial firms, or nonprofit organizations. Most (16) of the 22 FFRDCs employing postdocs are funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The largest FFRDC postdoc employers were Aerospace FFRDC (almost 700 postdocs) and Los Alamos National Laboratories (about 400). Other large FFRDC post-doc employers include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and Stanford Linear Accelerator Center Research Division (table
Chapter 3 provides more detail on postdoctoral employment, including reasons for postdoc, length of postdoc, salaries, and subsequent employment. See sidebar "Postdoctoral Appointments."
 Data for racial/ethnic groups are for U.S. citizens and permanent residents only.
 See the NSF report series Science and Engineering Degrees (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/degrees/) for longer degree trends and Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2004 (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/women/) for more detail on enrollments and degrees by sex and by race/ethnicity.
 Data for racial/ethnic groups are for U.S. citizens and permanent residents only.
 Data for racial/ethnic groups are for U.S. citizens and permanent residents only.
 A current science and technology policy debate in Taiwan focuses on whether to encourage more Taiwanese to study at U.S. universities for the subsequent benefits of networking between Taiwanese and U.S. scientists and engineers.