Graduate education in S&E contributes to global competitiveness, producing the highly skilled workers of the future and the research needed for a knowledge-based economy. This section includes indicators related to graduate enrollment; 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 increased between 2000 and 2011 to more than 600,000 (appendix table
Graduate enrollment in engineering grew between 2000 and 2011. Although the rate of growth slowed somewhat in 2011, the number of full-time engineering students reached a new peak in that year (appendix table
The number of full-time students enrolled for the first time in S&E graduate departments is an indicator of developing trends. Despite some drops in first-time, full-time enrollment in engineering and computer sciences in the early to mid-2000s, this indicator has increased fairly steadily in most broad S&E fields, particularly between 2008 and 2011. In 2011, the number of first-time, full-time S&E graduate students reached a new peak in most S&E fields (appendix table
First-time, full-time graduate enrollment, particularly in engineering and to some extent in computer sciences, often follows trends in employment opportunities. When employment opportunities are plentiful, recent graduates often forgo graduate school, but when employment opportunities are scarce, further training in graduate school may be perceived as a better option. Figure
In 2011, 46% of the S&E graduate students enrolled in the United States were women (appendix table
In 2011, among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, underrepresented minority students (blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians and Alaska Natives) accounted for 17% of students enrolled in graduate S&E programs (appendix table
In 2011, whites accounted for about 65% of S&E graduate enrollment among U.S. citizens and permanent residents. They constituted a larger proportion of graduate students enrolled in agricultural sciences and in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences (about 80%) and a smaller proportion of those enrolled in computer sciences and social sciences (about 60%). The proportions of whites in other fields fell in between. Over time, however, the proportion of whites among graduates enrolled in S&E has declined in all broad S&E fields except for computer sciences, where the proportion of whites increased slightly, from 58% in 2000 to 60% in 2011.
Asians and Pacific Islanders accounted for 9% of S&E graduate enrollment among U.S. citizens and permanent residents in 2011, with larger proportions in computer sciences (14%), engineering (13%), the biological and medical sciences (about 12% and 11%, respectively) and a lower proportion in the agricultural sciences (3%); earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences (4%); psychology (5%); and the social sciences (6%). Between 2000 and 2011, the proportion of Asians and Pacific Islanders enrolled increased slightly in most broad fields, but it declined in computer sciences (from 21% in 2000 to 14% in 2011).
About 20% of graduate students reporting a disability were enrolled in S&E fields. Nearly two-thirds of those in S&E fields were men; nearly 90% were 24 years old or older (NSF/NCSES 2013a).
In 2011, nearly 174,000 foreign students on temporary visas were enrolled in S&E graduate programs (appendix table
Following a post-9/11 decline, the numbers of first-time, full-time foreign graduates enrolled increased more or less consistently in most broad fields through 2011 (appendix table
According to data collected by the Institute of International Education (IIE), the overall number of foreign graduate students in all fields increased by 1% from academic year 2010–11 to 2011–12 (IIE 2012). The number of new foreign graduate students increased by 3%. India, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Canada were the top originating locations for foreign graduate students, similar to the leading foreign sources for undergraduate enrollment.
More recent data from SEVIS show an overall 3% increase in foreign graduate students from November 2011 to November 2012 in all fields (appendix table
In some fields, such as engineering and geosciences, a master’s degree can be a terminal degree that fully prepares students for an established career track. In other fields, master’s degrees primarily mark a step toward doctoral degrees. Master’s degrees awarded in S&E fields increased from about 96,000 in 2000 to about 151,000 in 2011, with growth concentrated in two periods, 2002–04 and 2007–11 (appendix table
In 2012, the Commission on Pathways through Graduate School and into Careers, a 14-member commission composed of industry leaders and university executives, led a research effort to understand the different career paths students may take and to modernize graduate education by emphasizing skills that align more closely with workforce needs (Wendler et al. 2012). Professional science master’s degree programs, which stress interdisciplinary training, are part of this relatively new direction in graduate education (for details, see sidebar, “Professional Science Master’s Degrees”).
The number of S&E master’s degrees earned by both men and women rose between 2000 and 2011 (figure
Women’s share of S&E master’s degrees varies by field. As with bachelor’s degrees, in 2011, women earned a majority of master’s degrees in psychology, biological sciences, agricultural sciences, and most social sciences except economics, but low proportions of master’s degrees in engineering, computer sciences, and physics. Women’s share of master’s degrees in engineering in 2011, however, was slightly higher than their share in 2000 (appendix table
The proportion of master’s degrees in S&E fields earned by U.S. citizens and permanent residents from underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities increased slightly between 2000 and 2011. The trends are not very different from those found in the data on bachelor’s degree awards among racial and ethnic groups. Blacks accounted for 10% of S&E master’s degree recipients in 2011, up from 8% in 2000; Hispanics accounted for 8%, up from 5%; and American Indians and Alaska Natives accounted for 0.5%, similar to the proportion in 2000. The proportion of Asian and Pacific Islander S&E recipients also remained flat in this period.
The percentage of S&E master’s degrees earned by white students fell from 70% in 2000 to 61% in 2011, whereas the percentage of degrees earned by blacks, Hispanics, and temporary residents increased. The proportion of S&E master’s degrees recipients of other or unknown race doubled between 2000 and 2011, to 12% (appendix table
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 2011, foreign students earned more than one-quarter of S&E master’s degrees. Their degrees were heavily concentrated in computer sciences, economics, and engineering, where they received more than 4 out of 10 of all master’s degrees awarded in 2011 (appendix table
The number of S&E master’s degrees awarded to students on temporary visas reached its highest point in a decade in 2011 (39,000), after a sharp decline between 2004 and 2007. Most of the drop during this period was accounted for by decreasing numbers of temporary residents in the computer sciences and engineering fields, but in both fields numbers rebounded in both fields by about one-third in the following years.
Doctoral education in the United States generates new knowledge important for the society as a whole and for U.S. competitiveness in a global knowledge-based economy. It prepares a new generation of researchers in academia, industry, and government, as well as a highly skilled workforce for other sectors of the economy.
The number of S&E doctorates (excluding those in other health sciences) conferred annually by U.S. universities increased steadily between 2002 and 2008, then decreased in 2009 and 2010. The number rose by nearly 5% in 2011, to more than 38,000 (appendix table
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. Longer times to degree mean lost earnings and a higher risk of attrition. Time to degree (as measured by time from graduate school entry to doctorate receipt) increased through the mid-1990s but has since decreased in all S&E fields from 7.7 to 7.0 years (appendix table
Between 1997 and 2011, time to degree for doctorate recipients decreased in each of the Carnegie types of academic institutions awarding doctoral degrees (see sidebar, “Carnegie Classification of Academic Institutions”). Time to degree was shortest at research universities with very high research activity (6.9 years in 2011, down from 7.2 years in 1997). Doctorate recipients at medical schools also finished quickly (6.7 years in 2011). Time to degree was longer at universities that were less strongly oriented toward research (table
The median time to degree varies somewhat by demographics, but these variations tend to reflect differences among broad fields of study. In 2011, across all doctorate recipients, women have a longer time to degree than men (7.9 versus 7.4 years, respectively) (NSF/NCSES 2012). However, these differences were very small or nonexistent when men and women were compared within broad fields. Time to degree for men and women was similar in most broad S&E fields except for engineering, where it was slightly shorter for women (6.5 versus 6.9 for men). Within broad S&E fields, time to degree was longer for temporary visa holders than for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and, in most broad fields, it was shorter for whites than for any other racial or ethnic group. In the life sciences, time to degree of Hispanic doctorate recipients was as short as that of whites (6.7).
Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the proportion of S&E doctoral degrees (excluding those in other health sciences; see endnote 39) earned by women grew from 43% in 2000 to 47% in 2011 (appendix table
The number of S&E doctoral degrees earned by women grew faster than that earned by men. The number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident women earning doctorates in S&E increased from nearly 8,000 in 2000 to nearly 11,000 in 2011, while the number earned by men increased from about 10,000 to nearly 12,000 in the same time interval (appendix table
In 2011, 3% of doctorate recipients reported having a disability. Compared with persons without disabilities, those with disabilities were less likely to earn doctorates in engineering fields (9% versus 17%) and more likely to earn doctorates in the social and behavioral sciences (21% versus 17%). Nearly one-third of the S&E doctorate recipients with disabilities reported a learning disability, 17% reported being blind or visually impaired, 13% reported a physical or orthopedic disability, 12% indicated being deaf or hard of hearing, 4% reported a vocal or speech disability, and 21% cited other or unspecified disabilities (NSF/NCSES 2013a).
The number and proportion of doctoral degrees in S&E fields earned by underrepresented minorities increased between 2000 and 2011. In 2011, blacks earned 1,233 S&E doctorates, Hispanics earned 1,326, and American Indians and Alaska Natives earned 113—accounting for 8% of S&E doctoral degrees (excluding doctorates in other health sciences; see endnote 39) earned that year, up from 6% in 2000 (appendix table
Although the number of S&E doctorates earned by white U.S. citizens and permanent residents increased between 2000 and 2011 (figure
Temporary residents earned nearly 13,000 S&E doctorates in 2011, up from about 8,000 in 2000. Foreign students on temporary visas earned a larger proportion of doctoral degrees than master’s, bachelor’s, or associate’s degrees (appendix tables
The top 10 countries and economies of origin of foreign S&E doctorate recipients (both permanent and temporary residents) together accounted for 68% of all foreign recipients of U.S. S&E doctoral degrees from 1991 to 2011 (table
Asia. From 1991 to 2011, students from four Asian countries and economies (China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan, in descending order) earned more than half of U.S. S&E doctoral degrees awarded to foreign students (131,000 of 236,000)—more than three times more than students from Europe (41,000). China accounted for almost half of these (63,000), followed by India (28,000), South Korea (22,000), and Taiwan (17,000). Most of these degrees were awarded in engineering, biological sciences, and physical sciences (table
The number of S&E doctorates earned by students from China declined in the late 1990s, increased through 2007, and dropped 16% in the following 3 years, but it rose 4% in 2011 (figure
Europe. European students earned far fewer U.S. S&E doctorates than Asian students between 1991 and 2011, and they tended to focus less on engineering than did their Asian counterparts (tables
The Americas. Despite the proximity of Canada and Mexico to the United States, the shares of U.S. S&E doctoral degrees awarded to residents of these countries were small compared with those awarded to students from Asia and Europe. The number of U.S. doctoral S&E degrees earned by students from Canada increased from about 320 in 1991 to nearly 500 in 2009, but it has declined in the last 2 years. The overall number of doctoral degree recipients from Mexico and Brazil peaked earlier (2003 and 1996, respectively) and declined in recent years (figure
A higher proportion of Mexican and Brazilian students earned U.S. doctorates in S&E fields than the comparable proportion for Canadians (table
The Middle East. Between 1991 and 2011, Middle Eastern students earned far fewer U.S. S&E doctorates (about 20,000) than did students from Asia, Europe, or the Americas (tables