Higher Education in Science and Engineering
Worldwide Increase in S&E Educational Capabilities
From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the number of first university degrees in higher education in science and engineering (S&E) increased rapidly in Asia and Europe, and slowly in North America. During this period,
first university degrees in S&E grew at an average annual rate of 4.8 percent among 16 European countries, at 4.1 percent among 6 Asian countries, and at 1.3 percent among North American countries.
- The increase in S&E degree production in Asia is driven by expanding access to higher education for large or growing populations. Developing countries such as India and China have large populations in their
college-age cohorts and increasing participation rates in postsecondary education. The increase in S&E degree production in Europe is driven by expanding access to higher education in the face of a declining student population.
A higher percentage of the college-age population in selected Asian countries than in Europe or North America earns university degrees in the natural sciences and engineering (NS&E). In Japan, Singapore, South Korea,
and Taiwan, between 6 and 7 percent of 24-year-olds earn NS&E degrees, compared to between 4 and 5 percent of 24-year-olds in Western Europe and North America.
In Europe, Asia, and North America, women have been particularly successful in earning degrees in the natural and social sciences. By 1995, women earned close to half of the natural science degrees in higher education
institutions in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States, and South Korea. Women in the three regions have also earned the majority of first university degrees in the social sciences, but are considerably less likely
to earn degrees in engineering.
Characteristics of U.S. Higher Education Institutions
Undergraduate S&E Students and Degrees in the United States
The trend of increasing enrollment of underrepresented minority students in undergraduate programs has persisted for over a decade and accelerated in the 1990s. Black enrollment increased 3.6 percent annually in the
1990s, reaching 1.3 million in 1995. Hispanic enrollment in higher education increased at an even faster rate during this period (7.1 percent annually).
In 1995, at the community college level, over half (57.8 percent) of the enrollment in mathematics classes was for remedial level courses. In 1970, remedial courses in community colleges accounted for about a third of
all mathematics courses.
The percentage of freshmen in four-year institutions reporting a need for remedial work in mathematics and science has remained high, particularly for women and minorities. In 1995, of those freshmen planning to major
in science or engineering, over 16 percent of the males and over 26 percent of the females thought they would need remedial work in mathematics. Among freshman students from underrepresented minority groups planning to major in science or
engineering, over 38 percent reported that they would need remedial work in math.
The number of earned bachelor's degrees in S&E from U.S. institutions has been increasing for over a decade, but trends differ by field. The number of natural science degrees increased 7.7 percent annually from 1990 to
1995, with stronger than average growth in the biological and environmental sciences, but only modest (2 percent) growth in the physical sciences. Attraction to the computer sciences dropped precipitously from 1986 to 1991, followed by slight
decreases to 1995. The number of social science degrees awarded, after record growth between 1986 and 1992 (averaging 6 percent annually), has remained stable for the last four years. Engineering degrees, whose numbers also peaked in 1986, declined
until 1991 and then stabilized.
In 1995, for the country as a whole, over 5 percent of the college-age population had completed a bachelor's degree in an NS&E field. But in that same year, only about 2 percent of black and Hispanic youth earned a
bachelor's degree in an NS&E field. Asian Americans, representing only 4 percent of the U.S. population, have considerably higher than average participation rates: over 12 percent earned an NS&E degree. Low participation rates for blacks and
Hispanics changed little throughout the 1980s, although they improved somewhat in the 1990s.
Graduate S&E Students and Degrees in the United States
Enrollment in U.S. graduate S&E programs grew for almost 20 years, reached a peak of almost 440,000 students in 1993, and then began to shrink. The decline in enrollment has averaged 1 percent annually. Fewer students
enrolling in engineering, mathematics, and the computer sciences account for most of this decline.
While women continued a decade-long trend of increased enrollment in graduate S&E programs in 1993, enrollment figures for U.S. white males began a downward trend. In 1977, women represented only one-quarter of S&E
graduate enrollment; by 1995, they accounted for 38 percent of enrollment.
Progress for underrepresented minorities in S&E graduate enrollment has been very modest. In 1975, they accounted for 3.7 percent of S&E graduate enrollment; by 1995, they accounted for 5.0 percent.
In 1992, foreign graduate students reversed their decade-long trend of increased S&E enrollment in U.S. institutions. They decreased their enrollment each year since then. From 1983 to 1992, the number of foreign
graduate students increased over 5 percent annually. From 1992 to 1995, their numbers decreased more than 3 percent annually.
The number of S&E degrees awarded in the United States at the master's level increased throughout the 1980s, with even stronger growth in the 1990s. The recent growth is mainly accounted for by rising numbers of earned
degrees in the social sciences and engineering, with relatively stable numbers in the natural sciences, mathematics, and computer sciences.
The proportion of U.S. master's degrees earned by females increased considerably in the last two decades-not only in the natural sciences, but in engineering as well. In 1975, females earned 21.1 percent of the natural
science degrees at the master's level and 2.5 percent of the engineering degrees. By 1995, females accounted for 41.0 percent of natural science degrees and 16.2 percent of engineering degrees.
Asian Americans earned an increasing number of S&E master's degrees, while the number of such degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities grew only slightly. The number of S&E master's degrees awarded to Asian
Americans grew especially in engineering, mathematics, and the computer sciences. The number of S&E master's degrees obtained by blacks grew modestly in most fields, although there was strong growth in the social sciences. Hispanics also earned a
modestly increasing number of degrees in the social sciences, as well as in engineering.
The number of doctoral degrees in engineering, mathematics, and the computer sciences nearly doubled from 1985 to 1995. Natural science fields-particularly the biological sciences-contributed to the rising number of
degrees, with a 30 percent increase.
Women accounted for an increasing proportion of S&E doctoral degrees, while underrepresented minorities showed only a slight increase. By 1995, females earned almost half of the doctoral degrees in the social sciences,
38 percent in the biological sciences, and almost 12 percent in engineering. Underrepresented minorities received less than 5 percent of all S&E doctorates awarded in 1995, up slightly from 3 percent in 1977.
In the past decade, foreign students have accounted for the large growth in S&E doctoral awards in U.S. universities. The number of foreign doctoral recipients in U.S. universities doubled in S&E fields from over 5,000
in 1986 to over 10,000 in 1995-an 8.2 percent average annual increase. In contrast, the rate of increase in doctoral degrees to U.S. citizens averaged only 1.9 percent annually.
The proportion of foreign doctoral recipients planning to remain in the United States has increased: for the 1992-96 period, over 68 percent planned to locate in the United States, and nearly 44 percent had firm offers to
do so. Stay rates differ considerably by place of origin. In 1996, 57 percent of the U.S. S&E doctoral recipients from China and 59 percent of those from India choose to accept employment in the United States. In contrast, only a small percentage
of 1996 doctoral recipients from South Korea and Taiwan (24 and 28 percent, respectively) accepted employment offers in the United States.
From 1990 to 1994, U.S. universities provided slightly more than half of their postdoctoral appointments to non-U.S. citizens. However, like the recent decline of foreign graduate enrollments in S&E in U.S.
universities, there has been a slightly smaller proportion of foreign postdoctoral appointments and a slightly increasing number of appointments to U.S. citizens, particularly in the sciences. Foreign postdoctoral recipients still receive the
majority of such research positions within U.S. universities in engineering.
One indicator of mobility of S&E personnel in the world is the proportion of foreign-born faculty in U.S. higher education. In 1993, foreign-born faculty in U.S. higher education accounted for 37 percent of the
engineering professors and 27 percent of the mathematics and computer science teachers. These faculty are mainly from Asia and Europe, with the largest numbers coming from India, China, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Canada, and South Korea.
International Comparisons of S&E Training
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