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Chapter 2. Higher Education in Science and Engineering

The U.S. Higher Education System

Higher education in S&E produces an educated S&E workforce and an informed citizenry. It has also been receiving increased attention as an important component of U.S. economic competitiveness. In his 24 February 2009 address to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama called for every American to commit to at least 1 year of education or career training after completing high school. A 2012 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST 2012) notes that economic forecasts point to a need to increase the proportion of college graduates going into the natural sciences and engineering over the next decade. This section discusses the characteristics of U.S. higher education institutions providing S&E education and the financing of higher education.

Institutions Providing S&E Education

The U.S. higher education system consists of a large number of diverse academic institutions that vary in their missions, learning environments, selectivity levels, religious affiliations, types of students served, types of degrees offered, and sectors (public, private nonprofit, or private for-profit) (Aud et al. 2010). There were approximately 4,700 postsecondary degree-granting institutions in the United States in the 2011–12 academic year. Of these, 63% offered bachelor’s or higher degrees, 30% offered only associate’s degrees, and 7% offered degrees that were at least 2-year but less than 4-year as the highest degree awarded.[2] More than half of the 4-year institutions are private nonprofits, 23% are public, and 25% are private for-profits. The majority of 2-year degree-granting institutions are public (56%) or private for-profit (39%) (table 2-1) (NCES 2012). In 2011, U.S. academic institutions awarded nearly 3.5 million associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees; 23% of the degrees were in S&E (appendix table 2-1).[3]

Doctorate-granting institutions with very high research activity, though few in number, are the leading producers of S&E degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. In 2011, these research institutions awarded 74% of doctoral degrees, 42% of master’s degrees, and 38% of bachelor’s degrees in S&E fields (appendix table 2-1). (See sidebar, “Carnegie Classification of Academic Institutions.”) Master’s colleges and universities awarded another 29% of S&E bachelor’s degrees and 25% of S&E master’s degrees in 2011.

Baccalaureate colleges were the source of relatively few S&E bachelor’s degrees (12%) (appendix table 2-1), but they produce a larger proportion of future S&E doctorate recipients (15%) (NSF/NCSES 2013b). When adjusted by the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in all fields, baccalaureate colleges as a group yield more future S&E doctorates per 100 bachelor’s degrees awarded than all other types of institutions except research universities.

High Hispanic enrollment institutions (HHEs) and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) play an important role in training Hispanic and black U.S. citizens and permanent residents for doctoral-level study in S&E fields.[4] Among Hispanic U.S. citizen and permanent resident S&E doctorate recipients who received their doctorates between 2007 and 2011, 29% had obtained their baccalaureate credential at an HHE (table 2-2). Similarly, among black U.S. citizen and permanent resident doctorate recipients who received their doctorates in S&E fields during the same period, 26% had obtained their baccalaureate degree at an HBCU (table 2-3). HBCUs are the second most important contributor of black S&E doctorate recipients after non-HBCU institutions with very high research activity (NSF/NCSES 2013b).

Minority-serving academic institutions enroll a substantial fraction of minority undergraduates (NSF/NCSES 2013a).[5] In 2010, HBCUs awarded 19% of the 43,000 S&E bachelor’s degrees earned by black U.S. citizens and permanent residents; HHEs awarded about 30% of the 46,000 S&E bachelor’s degrees earned by Hispanic U.S. citizens and permanent residents. However, the percentages of blacks earning S&E bachelor’s degrees from HBCUs and of Hispanics earning S&E bachelor’s degrees from HHEs have declined since 2001. Tribal colleges, which mainly offer 2-year degrees, account for about 1% of S&E bachelor’s degrees to American Indians; this proportion has been fairly stable over time.[6]

Community Colleges

Community colleges (also known as public 2-year colleges or associate’s colleges) play a key role in increasing access to higher education for all citizens. These institutions serve diverse groups of students and offer a more affordable means of participating in postsecondary education. Community colleges are important in preparing students to enter the workforce with certificates or associate’s degrees or to

4-year colleges or universities. Community colleges tend to be closely connected with local businesses, community organizations, and government, so they can be more responsive to local workforce needs (NRC and NAE 2012).

In the 2011–12 academic year, there were nearly 1,000 community colleges in the United States, enrolling more than 7 million students, or about a third of all postsecondary students (NCES 2012). Six out of 10 community college students were enrolled part time. With the economic recession, enrollment in community colleges increased by about 800,000 students between 2007 and 2009 but slowed down in 2010 and declined slightly in 2011 as the labor market improved (Knapp, Kelly-Reid, and Ginder 2009, 2011).

Community colleges play a significant role in the education of individuals who go on to acquire advanced S&E credentials. Among U.S. citizen and permanent resident S&E doctorate holders who received their doctorates between 2007 and 2011, nearly 20% indicated that they had earned college credit from a community or 2-year college (table 2-4). According to data from the National Survey of Recent College Graduates (NSRCG), the proportion of recent bachelor’s S&E graduates who reported ever attending a community college has increased since the late 1990s (table 2-5). Nearly half of 2008 and 2009 S&E graduates said that they had attended a community college (49% of the bachelor’s recipients and 36% of the master’s recipients). Graduates in physical sciences, engineering, and computer and mathematical sciences were less likely than those in the biological and social sciences to have attended a community college. Between 2003 and 2010, the proportion of S&E graduates who attended community colleges remained stable in all broad fields (figure 2-1).

In 2010, female S&E bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients were more likely to have attended a community college than their male counterparts (table 2-6). Attendance was higher among U.S. citizens and permanent visa holders than among temporary visa holders. Attendance was lower for Asian S&E graduates than for whites, blacks, or Hispanics. The likelihood of attending a community college before receiving an S&E bachelor’s or master’s degree was related to parental education level. Nearly 6 out of 10 of the S&E graduates who reported that their fathers or mothers had less than a high school diploma attended a community college, compared with about one-third of those whose fathers or mothers had a professional or a doctoral degree.

For-Profit Institutions

In 2011, about 3,400 higher education institutions in the United States operated on a for-profit basis. Nearly half of these institutions offer only less-than-2-year programs, and about 4 out of 10 are degree-granting institutions.[7] Two-year, for-profit institutions enroll considerably fewer students than community colleges. Over the last 12 years, however, the number of for-profit institutions has grown rapidly, and the number of degrees they award has more than tripled (NCES 2012; appendix table 2-2). A large part of that increase is accounted for by the growth of the University of Phoenix.

In 2011, for-profit academic institutions awarded between 2% and 6% of S&E degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, as well as 33% of S&E degrees at the associate’s level (appendix tables 2-1 and 2-2 ). Computer sciences accounted for 73% of the associate’s degrees and 51% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded by for-profit institutions in S&E fields in 2011 (appendix table 2-3). For-profit institutions awarded fewer S&E master’s and doctoral degrees than associate’s and bachelor’s. At the master’s level, S&E degrees were mainly in psychology, social sciences, and computer sciences; at the doctoral level, they were almost exclusively in psychology and social sciences. In 2011, degrees in psychology represented nearly half of the master’s and three-quarters of the doctoral degrees awarded by for-profit institutions in S&E fields. Degrees in social science accounted for one-quarter of the master’s and a similar proportion of the doctoral degrees awarded in S&E fields.

Online and Distance Education

Online education and distance education enable institutions of higher education to reach a wider audience by expanding access for students in remote geographic locations and providing greater flexibility for students who face time constraints, physical impairments, responsibility to care for dependents, and similar challenges. Online education is a relatively new phenomenon, and online enrollment has grown substantially in recent years. In 2011–12, about 62% of 2- and 4-year Title IV institutions (i.e., institutions that participate in federal financial aid programs) offered some distance education opportunities to their students (table 2-7) (Ginder and Sykes 2013).[8] The vast majority of public institutions offered some distance education to their students, as did more than half of the private nonprofit and about 71% of the private for-profit 4-year institutions. In the United States, 30 Title IV institutions were exclusively distance education institutions; most of these institutions were private for-profits, and more than 90% of the degrees awarded were in non-S&E fields (Ginder and Sykes 2013).

More recently, changes in the online education landscape have accelerated with the appearance of massive open online courses (MOOCs). MOOCs can provide broad access to higher education. Through their online platforms, they also have the potential to collect massive amounts of information that can be used to conduct experimental research on how people learn and to identify online practices that improve learning (U.S. Department of Education 2013).

MOOCs originated when a Stanford professor, Sebastian Thrun, and the director of research at Google, Peter Norvig, opened admission to their course on artificial intelligence in fall 2011. Until then, enrollment was typically 200 students. When free online access was offered, 160,000 students from 190 countries registered for the class, and about 23,000 completed it. Previous efforts by academic institutions, such as the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University and OpenCourseWare at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had included online courses for public access; however, the Stanford class also allowed students to take quizzes, submit homework, and attend virtual office hours. In the wake of the popular response to this class, other selective universities have collaborated in joint ventures (e.g., Udacity, Coursera, edX) to offer free versions of their courses online, reaching large populations of students around the world. These companies are growing rapidly, adding new courses and students, and increasing the number of university partners in the United States and abroad (Lewin 2013). In fall 2012, edX and Udacity gave students the option of paying a small fee to take a proctored final exam that will validate their learning (Parry 2012). In February 2013, the American Council on Education approved five Coursera courses for college credit (Kolowich 2013). It is not clear whether colleges will generally be willing to grant credit for those courses.

Changing modes of online education are prompting questions about how the use of this technology will affect the higher education sector. In particular, it is not yet clear how many students can sustain commitment to learning in the absence of more personal contact and to what extent the growing access to higher education facilitated by MOOCs will translate into learning and, in the long run, to higher levels of educational achievement.

Trends in Higher Education Expenditures and Revenues

Higher education spending and revenue patterns changed substantially over the last two decades, in trends that intensified during the economic downturn of the late 2000s. Although all types of higher education institutions faced competing demands in a stringent budget environment, each type faced unique challenges. Increases in the number of students seeking an affordable college education compounded the challenges created by tight budgets. This section shows trends in inflation-adjusted average spending and revenue per full-time equivalent (FTE) student from 1987 to 2010, based on data from the Delta Cost Project.[9]

Very High Research Universities—Public and Private Institutions

Net tuition and federal appropriations, grants, and contracts are the largest sources of revenues centrally involved with education for both public and private very high research institutions (appendix table 2-4).[10] For public institutions, state and local appropriations are also critical, supplying a similar amount of revenue as either of the other two sources (nearly $10,000 per FTE in 2010); in contrast, they are a small source of revenue for their private counterparts (about $400 per FTE in 2010). Much more important for private institutions are private and affiliated gifts, investment returns, and endowment income, which are usually the largest source of revenue.[11]

State and local appropriations for public very high research universities have declined since 1987, with a particularly steep drop between 2007 and 2010 (figure 2-2). This decline coincided with a compensating increase in net tuition. In 1987, average state appropriations per FTE at public very high research institutions were more than three times the amount of net tuition ($13,600 versus $4,000). By 2010, however, appropriations had dropped to $9,800 per FTE, whereas net tuition had increased from $4,000 to $9,600 per FTE (appendix table 2-4). This change represents a shift in tuition burden from state and local governments to individual students and their families. Starting at a higher level, net tuition at private very high research universities also increased during this period. But the increase, from $16,000 to $23,000, was proportionally much smaller.

Revenue from federal appropriations, grants, and contracts, the source used for most research expenditures, is highest at the most research-intensive universities (appendix table 2-4). Between 1987 and 2010, these funds increased at both the public and the private very high research institutions. At the public very high research institutions, these funds per FTE almost doubled, reaching the same level as the state and local appropriations (about $10,000). At private very high research institutions, they increased somewhat less, by more than 60% in this 24-year period.

Research and instruction are the two largest core education expenditures at both public and private very high research universities. Between 1987 and 2010, research expenditures increased substantially at both types of institutions—by 89% at the private universities and by 79% at their public counterparts (figure 2-3; appendix table 2-5).[12]

Instructional spending per FTE followed a pattern similar to that of research expenditures. It was much higher at private very high research institutions than at their public counterparts, and it also increased at a higher rate. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, instructional spending at private very high research universities was slightly more than double that of the public ones. By the mid-2000s, it was more than triple (figure 2-4).

Most other expenditures also increased at both types of very high research institutions; however, at the public ones, spending on plant operation and maintenance declined from 2007 to 2010, with a sharp drop in 2010 (appendix table 2-5).

Four-Year and Other Graduate Public Institutions

From 1987 to 2010, state and local appropriations and net student tuition were the largest sources of revenues centrally involved with education at other public institutions offering 4-year and graduate degrees (appendix table 2-4).[13] At these institutions, total revenues from these two sources were lower than those at public very high research universities and higher than those at community colleges. Overall, the percentage drop in revenue per FTE from state and local appropriations was similar to that experienced at the public very high research institutions. In 2010, net student tuition replaced state and local appropriations as the largest source of revenue in the public 4-year institutions. Average state appropriations per FTE in 1987 ($8,400) were three times higher than the corresponding amount of tuition revenue ($2,800). By 2010, average revenues from net student tuition, at $6,600 per FTE, exceeded average revenues from state appropriations per FTE by more than $500 (figure 2-5).

Spending on instruction at these institutions has been at least three times as high as almost all the other standard expense categories. It increased from an average of $5,800 per FTE in 1987 to $6,800 per FTE in 2010 (appendix table 2-5). Other expenditures represented much smaller shares of total spending; most of these expenditures increased. Spending on plant operation and maintenance fell by 4% over the 24-year period, with a large decline from 2007 to 2010 (18%).

Community Colleges

Both revenues and expenditures are much lower for community colleges than for other public institutions of higher education.[14] As in these other institutions, the main sources of revenue at community colleges are state and local appropriations and net student tuition (appendix table 2-4). In 2010, average revenues from state and local appropriations at community colleges were about $5,600 per FTE, compared with $9,800 at public very high research institutions; average revenues from net tuition were $3,300 per FTE, compared with $9,600 at public very high research institutions.

Between 1987 and 2010, revenues from state and local appropriations at community colleges decreased from an average of $6,800 per FTE to $5,600 per FTE, with a steep drop from 2007 to 2010 (figure 2-6). During this 24-year period, as state support declined, revenues from net tuition more than doubled. In 1987, revenues from state and local appropriations represented 64% of total revenues at community colleges, and tuition accounted for 15%. By 2010, state and local appropriations had dropped to 46% of total revenues, whereas the proportion of revenues from tuition nearly doubled, to 27%.

At community colleges, instruction is by far the largest expenditure (appendix table 2-5). In 1987, spending on instruction was $4,700 per FTE, about 43% of total expenditures. In 2010, average instructional spending per FTE ($4,800) was nearly identical to the 1987 level. Overall, these expenditures had increased somewhat through 2008 but dropped by 10% between 2008 and 2010 (figure 2-6). Expenditures on student services, institutional and academic support, and plant operation and maintenance also declined between 2007 and 2010.

Public Institutions Comparison

Between 1987 and 2010, revenues from state and local appropriations and net tuition, the main two revenue sources at public institutions, grew less at community colleges than at the other two types of public institutions. In community colleges, these two revenue sources combined increased by 6% during this period, lower than the comparable increases at the public 4-year and other graduate institutions (14%) and the very high research institutions (11%). However, trends in these individual revenue sources were substantially different. States and localities cut funding for all three categories of institutions, but the reduction was smaller in the community colleges (18%) than in the very high research public institutions (28%) and the 4-year and other graduate public institutions (27%). Unlike the community colleges, though, the other two types of public institutions were able to increase revenues from net tuition. FTE net tuition revenues increased by 143% at the public very high research universities and by 136% at the 4-year and other graduate public institutions, compared with 104% at community colleges (appendix table 2-4).

Expenditures for instruction followed a different pattern. They rose most rapidly at the very high research institutions (30%), where there was pressure to keep faculty salaries (a major component of instructional expenses) competitive with those of their private counterparts, which spent more on instruction to begin with and were increasing these expenses at an even more rapid rate (79%) (appendix table 2-5). At community colleges, FTE instructional expenses were essentially the same at the end of the period as they were at the beginning;[15] in 4-year and other graduate institutions, they fell somewhere in between. Overall, during this period, community colleges had more limited resources and less flexibility to draw on alternate revenue sources to support their instructional expenses, which were growing because of large increases in enrollment (see section “Undergraduate Enrollment in the United States”).

In recent years, universities have been under pressure to improve the way they monitor and manage their performance and are attempting to contain costs without compromising quality or accessibility. In May 2012, the National Research Council released a report titled “Improving Measurement of Productivity in Higher Education” (NRC 2012a), which examined key issues regarding the measurement of productivity (for a summary of the panel’s conclusions and recommendations, see sidebar, “Improving Measurement of Productivity in Higher Education”).

Financing Higher Education

Cost of Higher Education

Affordability and access to U.S. higher education institutions are continuing concerns (NCPPHE 2008; NRC 2012a). Estimated average net tuition and fees (i.e., the published prices minus grant aid and tax benefits) paid by full-time undergraduate students in public 4-year colleges declined from 2007–08 to 2009–10 and in their private counterparts from 2007–08 to 2010–11 because of unusually large increases in grant aid and tax credits. However, since then, net tuition and fees have increased at both public and private nonprofit institutions. At public 2-year colleges, net tuition and fees followed a similar pattern, but since 2008–09, the average student enrolled full time has received enough funding through federal tax benefits and grant aid from all sources to cover other expenses, in addition to tuition and fees (–$1,220 net tuition in 2012–13) (table 2-8) (College Board 2012a).[16]

For at least the past 10 years, tuition and fees for colleges and universities in the United States have grown rapidly (see section “Trends in Higher Education Expenditures and Revenues”), whereas real median household income declined 8.9% between 1999 and 2011 (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith 2012). Some evidence suggests that increases in net tuition and fees, however, have fallen disproportionately on households at higher levels in the income distribution, where financial aid is less readily available (College Board 2012a).[17]

Undergraduate Financial Support Patterns and Debt

Financial Support for Undergraduate Education. With rising tuition, students increasingly rely on financial aid (particularly loans) to finance their education. Financial aid for undergraduate students comes mainly in the form of grants, student loans, and work-study. A financial aid package may contain one or more of these kinds of support. In the 2011–12 academic year, federal loans constituted 38% of the $185 billion in student aid that undergraduate students received, followed by federal grants (26%), institutional grants (18%), state grants (5%), private employer grants (4%), and federal work-study programs (1%) (College Board 2012b). According to the latest data available from the NCES National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, a higher proportion of undergraduates in private for-profit institutions (96%) and in private nonprofit 4-year institutions (85%) than those in public 4-year (71%) or public 2-year (48%) institutions received some type of financial aid (Wei et al. 2009).

Undergraduate Debt. Among recent graduates with S&E bachelor’s degrees, the level of undergraduate debt does not vary much by undergraduate major (NSF/NCSES 2010); however, levels of debt vary by type of institution and state. Levels of undergraduate debt for students from public colleges and universities are almost as high as those for students from private colleges and universities. Nearly 6 out of 10 students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2010–11 from the public 4-year colleges where they began their studies graduated with debt, and their average total debt was $23,800. Among students who earned their bachelor’s from the private 4-year institutions where they began their studies, two-thirds graduated with debt, and their average total debt was $29,900. Students who attend private for-profit institutions are more likely to borrow, and to borrow larger amounts, than those who attend public and private nonprofit institutions (College Board 2012b).

Levels of debt varied widely by state. Average debt for 2011 graduates of public 4-year colleges and universities ranged from $16,317 in Utah to $32,385 in New Hampshire. Average debt for graduates of private nonprofit colleges and universities ranged from $18,614 in Utah to $34,017 in Connecticut (Reid and Cochrane 2012). Cost of living may account for some of the differences by state.

Graduate Financial Support Patterns and Debt

Financial Support for S&E Graduate Education. More than one-third of all S&E graduate students are primarily 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, over time RAs have been the most prevalent primary mechanism of financial support for full-time S&E graduate students (appendix table 2-6). In 2011, 27% of full-time S&E graduate students were supported primarily by RAs, 18% primarily through TAs, and 12% primarily by fellowships or traineeships (table 2-9).

Primary mechanisms of support differ widely by S&E field of study (figure 2-7; appendix table 2-7). For example, in fall 2011, full-time students in physical sciences were financially supported mainly through RAs (40%) and TAs (38%). RAs also were important in agricultural sciences (51%); earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences (39%); biological sciences (38%); and engineering (38%, and in particular in materials and chemical engineering). In mathematics, nearly half (49%) of full-time students were supported primarily through TAs and another quarter were self-supported. Full-time students in computer sciences and the social and behavioral sciences were mainly self-supporting (49% and 48%, respectively) or received TAs (14% and 20%, respectively). Students in medical and other health sciences were mainly self-supporting (59%).

The federal government plays a substantial role in supporting S&E graduate students in some fields but a smaller role in others. Federal financial support for graduate education reaches a larger proportion of students in the biological sciences; the physical sciences; the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; and engineering. Lower proportions of students in computer sciences, mathematics, medical and other health sciences, psychology, and social sciences receive federal support (figure 2-8). appendix table 2-8 provides detailed information by field and mechanism.

The federal government was the primary source of financial support for 19% of full-time S&E graduate students in 2011, whereas 45% were supported by nonfederal sources (institutional, state or local government, other U.S. sources, or other non-U.S. sources) and 36% were self-supported (appendix table 2-6). The number of full-time S&E graduate students supported by the federal government increased between 1998 and 2004 but has been fairly stable since then, whereas the number of students supported by nonfederal sources or through self-support has gradually increased between 1997 and 2011 (figure 2-9).

For some mechanisms of support, the federal role is fairly large. In 2011, the federal government funded 61% of S&E graduate students who were on traineeships, 51% of those with RAs, and 24% of those with fellowships (appendix table 2-8).

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 73% of federally supported full-time S&E graduate students. Fellowships and traineeships are the means of funding for 21% of the federally funded full-time S&E graduate students. For students supported through nonfederal sources in 2011, TAs were the most prominent mechanism (40%), followed by RAs (30%) (table 2-9; appendix table 2-6).

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, followed by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) (appendix table 2-9). In 2011, NIH supported about 26,000 students, NSF about 24,000, and DOD about 9,000. Trends in federal agency support of graduate students show considerable increases from 1997 to 2011 in the proportion of students funded by NSF, from 21% to 29% (appendix table 2-9). NSF supported nearly 60% of students in computer sciences or mathematics whose primary support comes from the federal government; 50% of those in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; 39% of those in the physical sciences; and 34% of those in engineering overall (about 43% of those in chemical and electrical engineering) (appendix table 2-10). The proportion of students funded by NIH increased from 28% to 33% between 1997 and 2008 but since then has decreased to 30%. In 2011, NIH funded about 71% of such students in the biological sciences, 53% of those in the medical sciences, and 43% of those in psychology. The proportion of graduate students supported by DOD decreased slightly between 1997 and 2011. In 2011, DOD supported almost half of the S&E graduate students in aerospace engineering, about one-third of those in industrial and electrical engineering, and close to one-quarter of those in mechanical engineering and in computer sciences.

For doctoral degree students, notable differences exist in primary support mechanisms by type of doctorate-granting institution (table 2-10). In 2011, RAs were 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, as well as those with high research activity). For those from medical schools, which are heavily funded by NIH, fellowships or traineeships accounted for the main source of support. Students at less research-intensive universities relied mostly on personal funds. These differences by type of institution hold for all S&E fields (NSF/NCSES 2000; NSB 2010).

Notable differences also exist in primary support mechanisms for doctoral degree students by sex, race or ethnicity, and citizenship (appendix table 2-11). In 2011, among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, men were more likely than women to be supported by RAs (31% compared with 22%). Women were more likely than men to be supported by fellowships or traineeships (29% compared with 24%) and to support themselves from personal sources (18% compared with 12%). Also, among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, whites and Asians were more likely than other racial or ethnic groups to receive primary support from RAs (28% 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 (50%).

To some extent, the sex, citizenship, and racial and ethnic differences in types of support mechanisms are related to differences in field of study. 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. However, differences in type of support by sex, race or ethnicity, or citizenship remain, even after accounting for doctoral field (NSF/NCSES 2000, NSB 2010).

Graduate Debt. At the time of doctoral degree conferral, 45% of S&E doctorate recipients have debt related to their undergraduate or graduate education. In 2011, 28% of S&E doctorate recipients reported having undergraduate debt, and 32% reported having graduate debt. For some, debt levels were high, especially for graduate debt: 5% reported more than $40,000 of undergraduate debt, and 7% reported more than $70,000 of graduate debt (appendix table 2-12).

Levels of debt vary widely by doctoral field. A higher percentage of doctorate recipients in non-S&E fields (49%) than those in S&E fields (32%) reported graduate debt. In 2011, within S&E, high levels of graduate debt were most common among doctorate recipients in social sciences, psychology, and medical and other health sciences. The proportion of doctorate recipients in these fields who reported graduate debt has increased since 2001. Psychology doctorate recipients were most likely to report having graduate debt and also high levels of debt.[18] In 2011, 24% of psychology doctoral degree recipients reported graduate debt of more than $70,000 (appendix table 2-12). Doctorate recipients in mathematics and computer sciences were the least likely to report graduate debt. Since 2001, the proportion of doctorate recipients reporting graduate debt higher than $30,000 has increased in all broad fields except engineering and mathematics (appendix table 2-13).

Men and women differed little in level of undergraduate debt, but women were more likely to have accumulated more graduate debt. U.S. citizens and permanent residents accumulated more debt than temporary visa holders. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indian and Alaska Natives had higher levels of graduate debt than whites, even accounting for differences in field of doctorate (NSF/NCSES 2012).

[2] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), fall 2011, Institutional Characteristics component, special tabulation.
[3] For a crosswalk between the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes and the academic fields in enrollment and completion tables, see, accessed 23 August 2013.
[4] High Hispanic enrollment institutions are those whose undergraduate, full-time equivalent student enrollment is at least 25% Hispanic, according to fall 2011 data in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, directed by the National Center for Education Statistics. HBCUs are listed by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, defines an HBCU as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.”
[5] Minority-serving institutions include HBCUs (see endnote 4), high Hispanic enrollment institutions, and tribal colleges.
[6] See tables 5-8, 5-9, and 5-10 in NSF/NCSES 2013a for additional details.
[7] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), fall 2011, Institutional Characteristics component, special tabulation.
[8] In 2011–12 IPEDS began asking institutions whether they were exclusively a distance education institution, that is, whether all of their programs were offered via distance education, defined as “education that uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously.” A distance education course is a course in which the instructional content is delivered exclusively via distance education. A distance education program is a program for which all the required coursework for program completion can be completed via distance education courses. Examinations, orientation, and practical experience components of courses or programs are not considered instructional content. For more details, see the IPEDS online glossary at
[9] For the definition of “net tuition revenue,” see “Glossary.” Definitions of standard expense categories are available at, and an explanation of revenue sources is available at
[10] Another large source of revenue for very high research institutions is “hospitals, independent operations, and other sources,” which includes revenue generated by hospitals operated by the institution and revenues independent of or unrelated to instruction, research, or public services.
[11] In 2010, income from private and affiliated gifts, investment returns, and endowment income at private very high research institutions ($62,000 per FTE) was more than the income from net tuition ($23,000 per FTE) and federal appropriations ($28,000 per FTE) combined (appendix table 2-4).
[12] Another large source of expenditures for very high research institutions is “auxiliary enterprises, hospitals and clinics, and independent and other operations.” Auxiliary enterprises include dormitories, bookstores, and meal services.
[13] The 4-year and graduate institutions category includes the following 2005 Carnegie institution types: doctorate-granting universities/high research activity, doctoral/research universities, master’s colleges/universities, and baccalaureate colleges. The figures in this section correspond to the public institutions.
[14] Community colleges are the public “associate’s colleges” in the 2005 Carnegie Classification.
[15] The proportion of U.S.-trained doctorate holders employed at community colleges in adjunct positions grew from 12% in 1993 to 28% in 2010, according to estimates from the Survey of Doctorate Recipients. This suggests that one of the ways community colleges may have reined in expenses during this period was to increase their reliance on adjuncts.
[16] In this section, data on net tuition and fees paid by full-time undergraduate students are based on data reported to the College Board by colleges and universities in the Annual Survey of Colleges. Net tuition and fees equal published tuition and fees minus total grant aid and tax benefits. Data on net tuition revenues reported in the section “Trends in Higher Education Revenues and Expenditures” are based on IPEDS data. Net tuition revenue, in this case, is the amount of money the institution takes in from students after institutional grant aid is provided.
[17] For more details, see Figure 2009_8 at and Figure 2009_9 at Accessed 29 July 2013.
[18] Clinical psychology programs and programs that emphasize professional practice (professional schools and PsyD programs) are associated with higher debt, but even in the more research-focused subfields of psychology, lower percentages of doctorate recipients were debt-free, and higher percentages had higher levels of debt, than those in other S&E fields. For information on debt levels of clinical versus nonclinical psychology doctorates in 1993–96, see Psychology Doctorate Recipients: How Much Financial Debt at Graduation? (NSF 00-321) at (accessed 6 November 2013).