Chapter 2:

Higher Education in Science and Engineering


Chapter Overview

Scientific discoveries, technological innovation, and the information revolution had a tremendous influence on U.S. society and the global economy in the late 20th century. These forces will have still greater roles in shaping the emerging knowledge society that will mature worldwide in the 21st century. The U.S. higher education system has facilitated this knowledge explosion and contributed, directly and indirectly, to the worldwide diffusion of science and engineering (S&E) knowledge. Consequently, encouragement of S&E education is a key element of the economic growth strategies of many countries around the world.

This chapter on higher education in S&E discusses trends that demonstrate the increasing globalization of S&E capabilities. At the undergraduate level, the globalization of science and technology has domestic implications for further openness in access to higher education in S&E fields for women and minorities, who will comprise the majority of the labor force in the 21st century. The increasing global capabilities for graduate S&E education have implications for the large international component of U.S. graduate S&E programs. This chapter includes indicators of the increase in capabilities for S&E education at the bachelor's and doctoral levels in three world regions: Asia, Europe, and North America. It also includes domestic indicators of current achievement in earning S&E degrees, both at the national level and for women and minorities.

Chapter Organization

This chapter begins and ends with international comparisons that put U.S. higher education indicators in a broader context. The comparisons at the chapter beginning are at the bachelor's level (referred to internationally as "first university degrees"), while those at the end are at the doctoral level. The initial international indicators relate to the number of S&E degrees: the growth rate over time of first university degrees, the proportion of S&E degrees produced among regions, participation rates of college-age cohorts in S&E degrees, differences in participation rates by sex, and the ratio of S&E degrees to total first university degrees by country.

The main body of the chapter focuses on U.S. higher education in science and engineering, including institutions, enrollment, and degrees at all levels. To a greater extent than is possible with the international indicators, domestic data illustrate trends in disaggregated fields, show coursetaking behavior at the undergraduate level, and note achievement by women and minorities. The following domestic indicators are disaggregated by race and sex: trends in enrollments, choice of S&E majors, need for remedial work in mathematics and science, participation rates in S&E degrees, and earned degrees at all levels.

Changes in the contributions of international students and faculty are explored in indicators on foreign doctoral students and stay rates in the United States of foreign doctoral recipients, the growth and change of postdoctoral appointments, foreign faculty in U.S. higher education, and reverse flows of U.S.-trained scientists and engineers to Asia.

The final chapter sections present science and technology indicators relating to international mobility. These include international comparisons of foreign student enrollment and comparison of doctoral S&E degree production in three world regions.

Note that trends are presented in terms of both S&E and the natural sciences and engineering (NS&E) throughout this chapter. These designate different aggregations of fields. S&E is the more inclusive term, including all fields; NS&E excludes social and behavioral sciences.[1] Both aggregations are included because trends differ among S&E and NS&E, particularly for women and minority groups (e.g., they are relatively better represented in the social and behavioral sciences). In addition, to make international comparisons more comparable in scope, NS&E is frequently used.

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[1] The natural sciences comprise the physical, chemical, biological, agricultural, earth, atmospheric, and oceanographic sciences, as well as mathematics and the computer sciences.

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