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Degree awards provide the most evident measure of student outcomes from higher education. The number of bachelor's degrees awarded in all fields is at an all-time high, having continued to rise throughout most of the last 25 years. [9] (See appendix table 5-22.) The increase was most rapid during the 1960's; it has continued, though more slowly since then. The decreases in enrollment already noted, particularly among entering first-year students, suggest that this trend could soon shift direction.
The numbers of bachelor's degrees in non-science and engineering fields have increased more rapidly than have those in science and engineering over this period: an increase of 127 percent in non-science and engineering awards compared with an 83 percent growth in the number of science and engineering awards. During the last 10 years the differences have persisted; non-science and engineering awards rose 20 percent, compared with a 10 percent rise for science and engineering.

Women Up arrow

In 1991, 1,107,997 bachelor's degrees were awarded in all fields to persons of both sexes in all citizenship groups. Women received more than half of the total number, as they have since 1982. Their share has continued to increase; by 1991 it was 54 percent. (See appendix table 5-18.)
Of the total number of bachelor's degrees awarded in 1991, 337,675 (or 30 percent) were in science and engineering fields. Women have lower representation in science and engineering fields than in non-science and engineering fields. (See figure 5-11.) Women have earned a majority of degrees in non-science and engineering throughout the past 25 years. In science and engineering fields combined, they earned 44 percent of the bachelor's degrees granted in 1991, a total of 148,347 degrees. Their share of bachelor's degrees in science and engineering has steadily though slowly increased; in 1981, women earned 38 percent of the total. This increase in percentage is partially due to the fact that while the number of women earning degrees in science and engineering increased, the number of males decreased. (See appendix table 5-18.)

Figure 5-11

Degree awards to women in science and engineering vary greatly by field. For science as a whole (excluding engineering) women earned 50 percent of the bachelor's degrees in 1991, almost exactly their percentage of the population and an increase from the 46 percent of the science degrees they earned 10 years earlier.
Within the sciences, the field with the highest share of bachelor's degrees awarded to women was psychology, with 73 percent (an increase from 65 percent in 1981). Women also earned more than half the bachelor's degrees in biological science (51 percent, up from 44 percent in 1981). Women increased their proportion of degrees in mathematics, agricultural science, and physical sciences. Computer science was the only science field in which the percentage of the bachelor's degrees earned by women declined, from 33 percent in 1981 to 30 percent 10 years later.
Women were most likely to earn degrees in social science, psychology, and biological science. (See appendix tables 5-19, 5-20 and 5-21.) Engineering continued to be one of the least popular fields for women in 1991; they earned 14 percent of the total engineering degrees, up from 11 percent in 1981. For men, on the other hand, engineering was the second most popular field, narrowly trailing behind social science in number of degrees awarded. There were large differences within engineering fields, however: women earned higher proportions of degrees in chemical and industrial engineering than in mechanical or electrical engineering. (See text table 5-3.)

Minorities Up arrow

In the last decade, minorities have steadily increased their share of bachelor's degrees in science and engineering. [10] However, there were important differences among minorities and by gender within minority groups. Asians gained a share of bachelor's degrees that was greater than their share of the population. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians continued to be underrepresented. In 1991, U.S. citizens and permanent residents earned 1,052,610 bachelor's degrees, 95 percent of the total number of bachelor's degrees awarded. Foreign citizens earned the remaining 5 percent.
Underrepresented minorities (blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians) comprised about one-fifth (21 percent) of the total U.S. population, according to 1990 census data. (See appendix table 5-1.) They earned 11 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded, the same percentage they earned in science and engineering fields combined and in non-science and engineering fields. These proportions were virtually unchanged from 10 years earlier. Asians earned another 4 percent of all degrees, 6 percent of those in science and engineering and 3 percent of those in non-science and engineering.
Changes in the number of degree awards suggest mixed progress. Between 1981 and 1991, the number of bachelor's degrees earned by underrepresented minorities in non-science and engineering fields increased 34 percent. (See figure 5-12.) By comparison, the number of science and engineering bachelor's degrees earned by underrepresented minorities grew 8 percent. Most of the growth was in engineering: The number of degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities increased 56 percent over the decade, growing from 7 percent of the total awarded in 1981 to 10 percent in 1991. In the science fields (excluding engineering), although the total number of underrepresented minorities receiving bachelor's degrees barely grew during the decade even in absolute numbers, they nonetheless accounted for 12 percent of science bachelor's degrees awarded in 1991.

Figure 5-12

The proportion of minorities in the population often differs from their proportion in science and engineering degrees awarded. Asians, who constitute 3 percent of the population according to 1990 census data, earned 6 percent of science and engineering bachelor's degrees in 1991. Blacks were almost 12 percent of the population and earned 6 percent of the degrees; Hispanics were 9 percent of the population and earned 5 percent of the degrees; and American Indians were under 1 percent of the population and earned only 0.4 percent of the degrees. (See appendix table 5-23.)
The proportion of all bachelor's degrees and of science and engineering bachelor's degrees awarded to women varied considerably across racial/ethnic groups. (See text table 5-4.) For each racial/ethnic group, in 1991 the representation of women was lower in science and engineering than in all fields, with white, Asian, and Hispanic women receiving fewer than half of the science and engineering awards. Within fields, men and women in each racial/ethnic group generally increased the number of degrees they were awarded, though there were exceptions. Numeric decreases were recorded in some fields for both men (white, black, Hispanic, and American Indian) and women (white and black). (See figures 5-13a, 5-13b, 5-13c, 5-13d and 5-13e.) Trends in degree awards with detail for gender and race/ethnicity for broad fields and for individual science and engineering fields are presented in appendix tables 5-22, 5-23, 5-24, 5-25, 5-26, 5-27, 5-28, 5-29, 5-30, 5-31, 5-32, 5-33, 5-34 and 5-35.

Figure 5-13a
Figure 5-13b
Figure 5-13c
Figure 5-13d
Figure 5-13e

9. Data on bachelor's degrees are from U.S. Department of Education/NCES IPEDS Completions Surveys. Science and engineering categories have been changed to reflect National Science Foundation categories. Up arrow

10. The race/ethnicity of bachelor's degree recipients is reported only for those who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Therefore, discussions of degree awards will use this group as the reference group, although tables report also the numbers of awards to foreign citizens on temporary visas and the total number of awards. In the case of awards at the master's and doctoral levels, the number of awards to foreign citizens is substantial, numerically and proportionately, so establishing comparable comparison groups across degree levels is important. Up arrow

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