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News Release 18-113

Number of doctorates awarded by US institutions in 2017 declined slightly

2017 report presents patterns of interstate mobility of new doctorate recipients for first time

Doctoral degree recipient holding diploma.

Doctorate recipients report gives measurement of the human resources devoted to STEM scholarship.

December 11, 2018

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 Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.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. institutions awarded 54,664 research doctorate degrees in 2017, a slight decline from the number awarded in 2016, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), an annual census of research degree recipients that provides data for the Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities report.

The report, published by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation, presents data and analysis of the American system of doctoral education, a vital U.S. economic interest.

By presenting an annual count of U.S. doctorate recipients, NCSES provides a measurement of the human resources devoted to science, engineering, research and scholarship.

Since the SED began collecting data in 1957, the number of research doctorates awarded in science and engineering (S&E) fields has exceeded the number of non-S&E doctorates. In 2017, S&E doctorates made up more than three-quarters of all doctorates awarded, a substantially larger share than 20 years ago.

For the first time, the report looked at patterns of interstate mobility among U.S. citizens and permanent residents -- that is, the movement of new doctorate recipients from one state to another for their first job after graduation. Interstate mobility is an indicator of economic growth and workforce development in the United States.

Over the past decade, doctorate recipients in business management and administration had the highest interstate mobility rates and education doctorates the lowest. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of men and more than two-thirds (70 percent) of women earning a doctorate award in business management and administration accepted a job in a state different from the state of their doctoral institution. In contrast, interstate mobility of doctorate recipients in education during this period was 35 percent for men and 31 percent for women.

The most recent SED includes the following findings:

  • The largest share of doctorates awarded in 2017 was in life sciences (23 percent), followed by engineering (18 percent), and psychology and social sciences (17 percent). The humanities and the arts made up 10 percent of doctorates awarded.
  • Women have earned a slight majority of all doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents each year since 2002, and women have earned more than 30 percent of all doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders over that period.
  • The number of doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are black or African American or who are Hispanic or Latino increased in the past 10 years. As a result, the proportion of doctorates earned by each group grew from 6 percent to 7 percent during this period.
  • In 2017, the number of doctorates in S&E fields awarded to temporary visa holders was 14,166, a decline of 159 from 2016, but the number of doctorates grew 77 percent since 1998. In comparison, the number of S&E doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents grew to 25,533 in 2017, up 2 percent from 2016 and up 32 percent since 1998, although from a larger base.
  • The number of doctoral awards to temporary visa holders is highly concentrated -- 10 countries accounted for 71 percent of the doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders from 2008 to 2017. The top three countries -- China, India and South Korea -- accounted for 54 percent of the doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders.
  • The proportion of doctorate recipients reporting definite commitments for employment, including postdoctoral study, increased in 2017, after years of declines. Almost half of doctorate recipients with definite employment commitments outside of a postdoctoral study reported that their principal job would be in academia.

For more information -- including how much education-related debt doctorate recipients incur, what kind of employment they find and how much they earn -- view the full report.


Media Contacts
Stanley Dambroski, NSF, (703) 292-7728, email:

Program Contacts
Jaquelina C. Falkenheim, NSF, (703) 292-7798, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2022 budget of $8.8 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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