NSB News Release

Pandemic disrupted students’ higher education plans

New report highlights disproportionate impact on women, caregivers, underrepresented minorities, low-income students

Representation of racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. population and among U.S. citizen and permanent resident S&E degree
recipients: 2019

Race/ethnicity of U.S. citizen and permanent resident S&E degree recipients: 2019 (Credit and Larger Version)

February 22, 2022


The COVID-19 pandemic affected the entire U.S. higher education system, threatening the financial viability of some institutions and disrupting higher education plans of many students, domestic and foreign. Undergraduate enrollment dropped by 3.6% overall in fall 2020, with public community colleges showing the sharpest decline (10.1%). The total number of international students on visas enrolled at U.S. institutions of higher education declined by almost 23% from 2019 to 2020, largely reflecting the impact of COVID-19 on international student mobility.

These and other data are in Higher Education in Science and Engineering published today by the National Science Board (NSB). Prepared by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics under NSB guidance, the new report is part of the 2022 edition of the congressionally mandated Science and Engineering Indicators report on the state of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.   

"Many groups of Americans remain underrepresented in STEM and the pandemic exacerbated that reality."

“Many groups of Americans remain underrepresented in STEM and the pandemic exacerbated that reality,” says NSB Member Maureen Condic. “There are long-standing barriers that can prevent students from pursing higher education in science and engineering, that can include affordability, lack of mentoring and role models, and insufficient mathematics preparation.” 

Indicators shows that while women are at or approaching parity with men at most degree levels overall and earn more than half of degrees in some fields, long-standing differences persist, especially in engineering, computer sciences, and mathematics and statistics. Blacks are underrepresented at all degree levels, while Hispanics and American Indians or Alaska Natives are underrepresented at all but the associate’s level. Another concern: A larger proportion of Blacks than Asians and Whites earn S&E degrees – especially doctorates – from for-profit institutions, with possible consequences for debt and career outcomes. 

The report also shows that S&E education is concentrated among a small number of higher education institutions which awarded three-quarters of doctorates, over half of master’s degrees, and nearly 45% of bachelor’s degrees in S&E fields in 2019. Further, these institutions also perform most of the country’s research. 

“The uneven geography of science and engineering capacity across our country is something we need to address,” says Condic. “So that all Americans can participate in and gain the benefits of acquiring S&E knowledge and skills, the U.S. must invest in kindergarten – postsecondary STEM education in every state and develop talent by establishing innovation hubs across the country.”

Other findings:

  • Between 2000 – 2019, the number of S&E degrees awarded continued to increase at all levels and across many fields. S&E degrees increased at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, both in numbers and as shares of total degrees.
  • India and China, countries with much larger populations, produced more bachelor’s equivalent degrees than the U.S.  At the doctoral level, the U.S. awarded the largest number of S&E degrees of any nation.
  • A substantial number of U.S. S&E doctorate recipients are students on temporary visas, many of whom stay after graduation.


About Science and Engineering Indicators
Science and Engineering Indicators is a congressionally mandated report on the state of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.


About NSB
The NSB identifies issues critical to NSF’s future, establishes its policies, and serves as co-head of agency with the NSF Director. The Board also advises the President and Congress on policy matters related to science and engineering (S&E) and S&E education. Selected for their distinguished service and accomplishments in academia, government, and the private sector, the Board’s 24 presidentially appointed members are leaders in science and engineering, and in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.


The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) is the nation's leading provider of statistical data on the U.S. science and engineering enterprise. As a principal federal statistical agency, NCSES serves as a clearinghouse for the collection, interpretation, analysis, and dissemination of objective science and engineering data. 


Media Contact: Nadine Lymn, National Science Board, (703) 292-2490,nlymn@nsf.gov

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 2023 budget of $9.5 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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