Graduate S&E educational institutions are a major source of both the highly skilled workers of the future and the research needed for a knowledge-based economy. This section includes indicators related to graduate enrollment, financial support for graduate education, recent trends in the number of earned degrees in S&E fields, and participation by women, minorities, and foreign students in graduate education in U.S. academic institutions.
S&E graduate enrollment in the United States reached a new peak of 597,600 in fall 2006. Following a long period of growth that began in the 1970s (NSB 2008), graduate enrollment in S&E declined in the latter half of the 1990s, then increased steadily through 2006 (appendix table
The number of full-time students enrolled for the first time in S&E graduate departments offers a good indicator of developing trends. The number of first-time full-time S&E graduate students also reached a new peak (116,500) in 2006. It declined in the mid-1990s in all major S&E fields but increased in most fields through 2006 (appendix table
Enrollment by Sex
The increase in S&E graduate enrollment occurred across all major U.S. citizen and permanent resident demographic groups. The number of women enrolled in S&E graduate programs has increased steadily since 1993. In contrast, the number of men enrolled in S&E graduate programs declined from 1993 through the end of that decade before increasing through 2003 and remaining more or less at that level through 2006 (appendix table
Women's rising percentages in S&E fields also continued. Women made up 42% of S&E graduate students in 1993 and 50% in 2006, although large variations among fields persist. In 2006, women constituted the majority of graduate students in psychology (76%), medical/other life sciences (78%), biological sciences (56%), and social sciences (54%). They constituted close to half of graduate students in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences (47%) and agricultural sciences (48%) and more than one-third of graduate students in mathematics (37%), chemistry (40%), and astronomy (34%). Their percentages in computer sciences (25%), engineering (23%), and physics (20%) were low in 2006, although higher than in 1993 (23%, 15%, and 14%, respectively) (appendix table
Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity
The proportion of underrepresented minority (black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native) students in graduate S&E programs increased from about 8% in 1993 to about 11% in 2006. Increases occurred in all major science fields and in engineering during that period (appendix table
The number of white S&E graduate students decreased from 1994 to 2001 and then increased through 2006, whereas the numbers of Asian, black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students increased almost every year from 1993 through 2006 (figure
Foreign Student Enrollment
Foreign graduate student enrollment in S&E grew from 110,300 in 1993 to 155,000 in 2003, declined for 2 years, and increased slightly in 2006 to 151,000. Foreign students increased from 22% to 25% of all S&E graduate students from 1993 to 2006 (appendix table
First-time full-time enrollment of foreign S&E graduate students increased in fall 2005 and fall 2006 after declining 18% from 2001 through 2004. The numbers still remain slightly below those of 2001 (appendix table
According to data collected by the Institute of International Education (IIE 2009), the overall number of foreign graduate students in all fields increased 5% from academic year 2006–07 to 2007–08, with almost all of the increase occurring among master's degree students. The number of foreign doctoral students increased 0.9% to approximately 109,000, and the number of foreign master's students increased 9% to approximately 133,700. The number of new foreign graduate students rose 8%. India, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Canada are the top places of origin for foreign graduate students. More than half of all foreign graduate students are studying S&E.
More recent data from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services show a continuing increase in foreign graduate students from April 2008 to April 2009, with foreign enrollment in S&E fields growing 8% (appendix table
More than one-third of all S&E graduate students are self-supporting; that is, they rely primarily on loans, their own funds, or family funds for financial support. The other approximately two-thirds receive primary financial support from a variety of sources, including the federal government, university sources, employers, nonprofit organizations, and foreign governments.
Support mechanisms include research assistantships (RAs), teaching assistantships (TAs), fellowships, and traineeships. Sources of funding include federal agency support, nonfederal support, and self-support. Nonfederal support includes state funds, particularly in the large public university systems; these funds are affected by the condition of overall state budgets. Most graduate students, especially those who pursue doctoral degrees, are supported by more than one source or mechanism during their time in graduate school, and some receive support from several different sources and mechanisms in any given academic year.
Other than self-support, RAs are the most prevalent primary mechanism of financial support for S&E graduate students. In 2006, a little more than one-fourth of full-time S&E graduate students were supported primarily by RAs, 18% were primarily supported through TAs, and 12% relied primarily on fellowships or traineeships (appendix table
Primary mechanisms of support differ widely by S&E field of study (appendix table
The federal government served as the primary source of financial support for one-fifth of full-time S&E graduate students in 2006 (appendix table
Most federal financial support for graduate education is in the form of RAs funded through grants to universities for academic research. RAs are the primary mechanism of support for 69% of federally supported full-time S&E graduate students, up from 66% in 1993. Fellowships and traineeships are the means of funding for 21% of the federally funded full-time S&E graduate students. The share of federally supported S&E graduate students receiving traineeships declined from 15% in 1993 to 12% in 2006, and the share receiving fellowships declined from 11% to 10%. For students supported through nonfederal sources in 2006, TAs were the most prominent mechanism (39%), followed by RAs (30%) (appendix table
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NSF support most of the full-time S&E graduate students whose primary support comes from the federal government. In 2006, they supported about 27,600 and 20,300 students, respectively. Trends in federal agency support of graduate students show considerable increases from 1993 to 2006 in the proportion of students funded (NIH, from 27% to 33%; NSF, from 20% to 24%). Support from the U.S. Department of Defense declined from 14% to 11% of federally supported graduate students (appendix table
For doctoral degree students, notable differences exist in primary support mechanisms by type of doctorate-granting institution. In 2007, the primary support mechanism for S&E doctorate recipients from research universities (i.e., doctorate-granting institutions with very high research activity, which receive the most federal funding) was RAs. For those from medical schools, which are heavily funded by NIH, the primary support mechanism was fellowships or traineeships, and for those from doctoral/research universities, which receive less federal funding, the primary support mechanism was personal funds (table
Notable differences also exist for doctoral degree students in primary support mechanisms by sex, race/ethnicity, and citizenship. Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents in 2007, men were more likely than women to be supported by RAs (29% compared with 21%) and women were more likely than men to support themselves from personal sources (21% compared with 13%). Also, among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, whites and Asians were more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to receive primary support from RAs (26% and 32%, respectively), whereas underrepresented minorities depended more on fellowships or traineeships (35%). The primary source of support for doctoral degree students with temporary visas was an RA (54%)
White and Asian men, as well as foreign doctoral degree students, are more likely than white and Asian women and underrepresented minority doctoral degree students of both sexes to receive doctorates in engineering and physical sciences, fields largely supported by RAs. Women and underrepresented minorities are more likely than other groups to receive doctorates in social sciences and psychology, fields in which self-support is prevalent. Differences in type of support by sex, race/ethnicity, or citizenship remain, however, even accounting for doctorate field (NSF/SRS 2000). Although remaining differences in self-support are small (2–3 percentage points) in some fields, differences between men and women in self-support remain substantial (13–25 percentage points) in computer and health sciences, and differences between underrepresented minorities and whites in RA support remain substantial (15–31 percentage points) in agricultural sciences; computer sciences; earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; physical sciences; and engineering.
At the time of doctoral degree conferral, 44% of S&E doctorate recipients have debt related to their undergraduate or graduate education. More than one-fourth have some undergraduate debt and about one-third owe money directly related to graduate education. In 2007, 27% of S&E doctorate recipients reported having undergraduate debt and 30% reported having graduate debt. For some, debt levels were high, especially for graduate debt: 0.3% reported more than $70,000 of undergraduate debt and 4% reported more than $70,000 of graduate debt (appendix table
Levels of debt vary widely by doctorate fields. In 2007, high levels of graduate debt were most common among doctorate recipients in psychology, social sciences, and medical/other health sciences. Psychology doctorate recipients were most likely to report having graduate debt and also high levels of debt. In 2007, 16% of psychology doctoral degree recipients reported graduate debt of more than $70,000. Doctorate recipients in engineering; biological sciences; computer sciences; earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; mathematics; and physical sciences were least likely to report graduate debt. A higher percentage of doctorate recipients in non-S&E fields than those in S&E fields reported graduate debt.
The scientific community increasingly views interdisciplinary research as critical to innovation and scientific advance and as a means to respond to emerging complex problems (COSEPUP 1995, 2004; NSF/DGE 2009). Over the past decade, academic institutions and federal funding agencies have made efforts to promote interdisciplinary education and research. Although new programs and efforts have arisen, academic institutions and funding agencies remain for the most part organized around disciplines; thus, university structures, evaluation and promotion practices, and funding opportunities often do not facilitate interdisciplinary research (NSF/DGE 2009). Measurement of interdisciplinary enrollment and degree attainment also remains a challenge, as students often are assigned to only one department or program to avoid duplication in records, and schools are asked to report the enrollment or degree in only one department or program. As interdisciplinary degree programs become established and award degrees, measurement becomes easier. For example, the number of doctoral degrees increased in interdisciplinary fields such as neuroscience (from 117 in 1982 to 737 in 2006), materials science (from 147 in 1982 to 582 in 2006), and bioengineering (from 59 in 1982 to 525 in 2006) (NSF/SRS 1993, 2009c). For information based on students' own reports of their research, see the sidebar "Interdisciplinary Dissertation Research."
In some fields, such as engineering and geology, a master's degree is often the terminal degree for students. In other fields, master's degrees are a step toward doctoral degrees, and in certain others, master's degrees are awarded when students fail to advance to the doctoral level. Professional master's degree programs, which stress interdisciplinary training, are a relatively new direction in graduate education. (See sidebar "Professional Science Master's Degrees.")
Master's degrees in S&E fields increased from 86,400 in 1993 to 121,000 in 2006 before dropping slightly in 2007 (appendix table
Master's Degrees by Sex
The number of S&E master's degrees earned by women rose from about 31,000 in 1993 to about 54,900 in 2007 (figure
Women's share of S&E master's degrees varies by field. In 2007, women earned a majority of master's degrees in psychology (79%), biological sciences (60%), social sciences (56%), and agricultural sciences (55%). Women earned a small share of master's degrees in engineering, although their share in 2007 (23%) was higher than their share in 1993 (15%) (appendix table
Master's Degrees by Race/Ethnicity
The number of S&E master's degrees awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents increased for all racial/ethnic groups between 1995 and 2007, although degrees to white students dropped from 1997 to 2002 before increasing again (figure
The proportion of master's degrees in S&E fields earned by U.S. citizen and permanent resident racial and ethnic minorities increased over the past two decades. Asians/Pacific Islanders accounted for 8% of S&E master's degrees in 2007, up from 6% in 1995. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives also registered gains during this period (from 4% to 7% for blacks, from 3% to 5% for Hispanics, and from 0.3% to 0.5% for American Indians/Alaska Natives). The percentage of S&E master's degrees earned by white students fell from 58% in 1995 to 49% in 2007 as the percentage of degrees earned by minorities and temporary residents increased (appendix table
Master's Degrees by Citizenship
Foreign students make up a much higher proportion of S&E master's degree recipients than of bachelor's or associate's degree recipients. In 2007, foreign students earned 24% of S&E master's degrees. Their degrees are heavily concentrated in computer sciences and engineering, where they earned 39% and 38%, respectively, of all master's degrees awarded in 2007 (appendix table
S&E master's degrees awarded to students on temporary visas rose from approximately 22,200 in 1995 to about 35,500 in 2004, then declined to 28,700 in 2007. Most of the decline in recent years is accounted for by declines in computer sciences and engineering.
Doctoral education in the United States prepares a new generation of faculty and researchers in academia, as well as a high-skilled workforce for other sectors of the economy. It also generates new knowledge important for the society as a whole and for U.S. competitiveness in a global knowledge-based economy.
After rising from the mid-1980s through 1998, the number of S&E doctorates conferred annually by U.S. universities declined through 2002 but increased in recent years, reaching a new peak of almost 41,000 in 2007 (NSB 2008; appendix table
Time to Doctoral Degree Completion
The time required to earn a doctoral degree and the success rates of those entering doctoral programs are concerns for those pursuing a degree, the universities awarding the degree, and the agencies and organizations funding graduate study (NORC 2007). (See sidebar "Doctoral Completion and Attrition.") Time to degree (as measured by time from graduate school entry to doctorate receipt) increased through the mid-1990s but since then has decreased for S&E fields as a whole and for each field (appendix table
Time to degree for doctorate recipients decreased in each of the Carnegie types of academic institutions awarding doctoral degrees from 1993 to 2007. (See sidebar "Carnegie Classification of Academic Institutions.") The majority of S&E doctorates are earned at research universities (i.e., doctorate-granting institutions with very high research activity). Time to degree is shortest at these universities: 7.0 years for 2007, down from 7.8 in 1993. Doctorate recipients at medical schools also finish quickly (7.1 years in 2007). Time to degree is longer at research universities with high research activity (7.9 years) and longest at doctoral/research universities (9.0 years) (table
Doctoral Degrees by Sex
Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the proportion of S&E doctoral degrees earned by women has risen considerably since 1993, reaching a record high of 55% in 2007 (appendix table
The increase in the proportion of S&E doctoral degrees earned by women resulted from both an increase in the number of women and a decrease in the number of men earning these degrees. The number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident women earning doctorates in S&E increased from 6,800 in 1993 to 15,000 in 2007 (appendix table
Doctoral Degrees by Race/Ethnicity
The number and proportion of doctoral degrees in S&E fields earned by U.S. citizen and permanent resident underrepresented minorities has also increased since 1995. Blacks earned 1,287, Hispanics earned 1,301, and American Indians/Alaska Natives earned 128 S&E doctorates in 2007, together accounting for 7% of all S&E doctoral degrees earned that year, up from 4% in 1995 (appendix table
Foreign S&E Doctorate Recipients
Temporary residents earned approximately 13,700 S&E doctorates in 2007, up from 8,700 in 1995. Foreign students on temporary visas earn a larger proportion of doctoral degrees than master's, bachelor's, or associate's degrees (appendix tables
Countries/Economies of Origin
The top 10 foreign countries/economies of origin of foreign S&E doctorate recipients together accounted for 66% of all foreign recipients of U.S. S&E doctoral degrees from 1987 to 2007 (table
Asia. From 1987 to 2007, students from four Asian countries/economies (China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan) earned more than half of U.S. S&E doctoral degrees awarded to foreign students (110,600 of 206,300), almost four times more than students from Europe (27,900). Most of these degrees were awarded in engineering, biological sciences, and physical sciences (table
Students from China earned the largest number of U.S. S&E doctorates awarded to foreign students during the 1987–2007 period (50,200), followed by those from India (21,400), South Korea (20,500), and Taiwan (18,500) (table
Europe. European students earned far fewer U.S. S&E doctorates than Asian students between 1987 and 2007, and they tended to focus less on engineering than did their Asian counterparts (table
The number of Central and Eastern European students earning S&E doctorates at U.S. universities increased from 55 in 1987 to more than 800 in 2007 (about the same number as those from Western Europe) (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 about 200 in 1987 to more than 400 in 2007. The number of doctoral degree recipients from Mexico increased from 99 in 1987 to 187 in 2007 (figure
Most foreign U.S. doctorate recipients plan to stay in the United States after graduation, and although the percentage of recipients staying is dropping, the number of recipients staying is increasing (figure
At the time of doctorate receipt, more than three-quarters of foreign recipients of U.S. S&E doctorates plan to stay in the United States and about half have either accepted an offer of postdoctoral study or employment or are continuing employment in the United States (appendix table
Stay rates vary by place of origin. In the period 2004–07, more than 90% of U.S. S&E doctoral recipients from China and 89% of those from India reported plans to stay in the United States, and more than half reported accepting firm offers for employment or postdoctoral research in the United States (appendix table
Between 2000–03 and 2004–07, the percentage of U.S. S&E doctoral degree recipients from all of the top five countries/economies of origin (China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, and Canada) reporting definite plans to stay in the United States declined. However, for all but Taiwan, increases in the numbers of doctorate recipients more than offset declines in the percentage staying. Thus, the numbers of U.S. S&E doctoral degree recipients from Canada, China, India, and South Korea who had definite plans to stay in the United States were larger in the 2004–07 period than in the 2000–03 period (appendix table