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Science and Engineering Graduate Enrollment Drops

May 1997

Enrollment of science and engineering (S&E) graduate students dropped for the second year in a row, a recent data brief from NSF's Science Resources Studies division announced. The total number of students fell from a high of 436,233 in 1993 to 423,922 in 1995.

The numbers are likely to continue to decline, predicts Joan Burrelli, Resource Analyst and author of the data brief. The number of first-year students has been declining since 1992, she explains.

Burrelli suggests the slump in the job market may be responsible for the decline in graduate students. "The fields that are declining, such as math and physical sciences, are also the fields where the jobs are tight, whereas enrollment in biological sciences has stayed steady and so have the jobs."

The decline in enrollment is not reflected equally among all sectors of the student population. The enrollment of non-U.S. citizens has been declining since 1992 and dropped almost 4% in 1995. The number of U.S. citizen and permanent visa students also fell by 1% in 1995.

However, within the U.S. citizen and permanent visa category, Burrelli found that the number of black, Hispanic and American Indian S&E graduate students has been increasing over the last several years. In 1995, the enrollment of blacks rose 4%, Hispanics, 6%, and American Indians, 10%. Enrollment of Asians decreased 2%.

The number of men enrolled in graduate S&E programs fell 3% in 1995, while the number of women increased 1%. "As a result of women's rising enrollment and men's falling enrollment, women's share of graduate S&E enrollment increased to 38%," writes Burrelli.

Between 1994 and 1995, the fields of study facing the biggest decreases include physics (down 6%), mathematical sciences (down 6%) and engineering (down 5%).

For the same time period, increases were seen in agricultural sciences (up 2%) and biological sciences (up 1%). The number of students enrolled in social sciences remained stable.

The data for the brief were obtained from the 1995 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. For a more detailed report, see the SRS publication, Selected Data on Graduate Students and Post-doctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 1995.

SRS documents are available via NSF's Web site: http://www.nsf.gov, or by calling 703-306-1773.


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