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News Release 09-227

Awards of U.S. Doctorate Degrees Rise for Sixth Straight Year

Photo of a degree adjacent to a graduation cap on a black cloth.

U.S. doctoral awards are the highest number ever reported by NSF's Survey of Earned Doctorates.

November 18, 2009

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

U.S. academic institutions awarded 48,802 research doctorate degrees in 2008, the sixth consecutive annual increase in U.S. doctoral awards and the highest number ever reported by the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Survey of Earned Doctorates.

The total number of doctorates increased 1.4 percent over 2007's total of 48,112, which was the smallest annual increase during the last six years. NSF's Science Resources Statistics division compiled the survey results.

The Survey of Earned Doctorates is a census of all individuals who receive a research doctorate from a U.S. academic institution in a given academic year. The 2008 census covers individuals who earned doctorates in the academic year beginning July 1, 2007, and ending June 30, 2008.

Specifically, 32,827 science and engineering (S&E) doctorates were awarded in 2008, an increase of 3.2 percent over 2007, and a 20.4 percent increase since 1998.

Awards of doctoral degrees were up in five of the eight major science fields in 2008: biological sciences, computer sciences, mathematics, psychology and social sciences. Biological sciences received the greatest number of doctorates, 7,793, or 16 percent of all S&E doctorates.

Similarly, doctorates awarded in computer science increased 7.9 percent over 2007 and had the largest rate of increase among science fields during the past decade, nearly doubling from 1998 to 2008.

At the other end of the spectrum, the number of doctorates awarded in non-S&E fields fell to 15,975 in 2008, 2.1 percent below the 2007 total, but up 4 percent over 1998. The number of doctorates awarded in education fields was up 2.1 percent, but doctorates declined in health 1.6 percent, humanities 7.1 percent and professional fields 2.9 percent in 2008.

The proportion of temporary visa holders among doctorate recipients continues its upward trend, increasing from 23.3 percent in 1998 to 33.1 percent in 2008. The rate at which temporary resident doctorate recipients report definite post-graduation commitments to remain in the United States is also increasing. In 1998, 68.4 percent of temporary resident doctorate recipients with definite commitments for employment or postdoctoral training reported an intention to remain in the United States upon graduating; this proportion increased to 78.2 percent in 2008.

More information from this report is available at:

The Survey of Earned Doctorates is supported by NSF's Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate.


Media Contacts
Bobbie Mixon, NSF, (703) 292-8485,

Program Contacts
Mark K. Fiegener, NSF, (703) 292-4622,

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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