by Kelly Kang[1]

T​he number of full-time graduate students enrolled in science and engineering (S&E) programs rose by 2.4% in 2013 after remaining relatively flat for the past 2 years. This increase was largely due to a 7.9% increase in full-time enrollment of foreign students on temporary visas. In 2013, full-time S&E foreign graduate enrollment reached an all-time high of 168,297 students, and they now represent 39.6% of all full-time S&E graduate students, up from 35.9% in 2008. In contrast, full-time S&E graduate enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents declined for the third year in a row.

These and other findings in this report are from the 2013 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS), cosponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Graduate Enrollment in S&E

Graduate Student Profile

In 2013, there were 570,300 students enrolled in S&E graduate programs in the United States, with about three-quarters enrolled as full-time students. More than half of those enrolled in S&E graduate programs were men, and more than two-thirds were U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Overall, full-time enrollment increased by 2.4% in 2013 to nearly 425,000 students. These increases were largely due to the foreign S&E graduate students, whose enrollment grew 7.9% from 2012 (table 1).

TABLE 1. Graduate enrollment in science and engineering fields, by enrollment status, sex, citizenship, ethnicity, and race: 2008–13

a Ethnicity and race data are available for U.S. citizens and permanent residents only.
b Reporting of ethnicity and race in 2008–13 has been affected by changes in the reporting of ethnicity and race in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Starting in 2008, IPEDS respondents were asked to use a new classification that included a category for two or more races and separate reporting of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders from Asians. The new classification was optional in 2008 and 2009 IPEDS but mandatory beginning in 2010 and may have contributed to a significant increase in the reporting of Not Hispanic or Latino, More than one race.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, NSF-NIH Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering.

Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

% change
Characteristic 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2012–13 2008–13
All graduate students in surveyed fields 529,275 545,685 556,532 560,941 561,418 570,300 1.6 7.8
Full-time enrollment 383,560 398,498 409,107 411,168 414,384 424,508 2.4 10.7
First time 108,819 115,755 118,492 120,135 121,856 127,725 4.8 17.4
Part-time enrollment 145,715 147,187 147,425 149,773 147,034 145,792 -0.8 0.1
Male 297,278 307,936 316,051 318,209 318,870 324,913 1.9 9.3
Female 231,997 237,749 240,481 242,732 242,548 245,387 1.2 5.8
U.S. citizens and permanent residentsa 369,781 382,342 390,403 392,160 385,343 381,225 -1.1 3.1
Full-time enrollment 245,691 256,503 263,871 262,043 258,477 256,211 -0.9 4.3
First time 68,093 75,321 77,242 75,394 73,704 72,731 -1.3 6.8
Part-time enrollment 124,090 125,839 126,532 130,117 126,866 125,014 -1.5 0.7
Hispanic or Latino 26,098 27,265 28,609 30,808 31,406 32,819 4.5 25.8
Not Hispanic or Latino
American Indian or Alaska Native 2,618 2,549 2,500 2,392 2,188 2,198 0.5 -16.0
Asianb 30,356 31,754 32,185 33,147 32,700 32,917 0.7 8.4
Black or African American 28,680 29,973 31,094 32,197 31,338 30,911 -1.4 7.8
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanderb 1,121 1,125 1,088 1,008 920 882 -4.1 -21.3
White 242,623 250,443 255,256 256,096 250,783 246,518 -1.7 1.6
More than one raceb 1,319 2,300 4,989 6,103 7,578 8,015 5.8 507.7
Unknown ethnicity and race 36,966 36,933 34,682 30,409 28,430 26,965 -5.2 -27.1
Temporary visa holders 159,494 163,343 166,129 168,781 176,075 189,075 7.4 18.5
Full-time enrollment 137,869 141,995 145,236 149,125 155,907 168,297 7.9 22.1
First time 40,726 40,434 41,250 44,741 48,152 54,994 14.2 35.0
Part-time enrollment 21,625 21,348 20,893 19,656 20,168 20,778 3.0 -3.9

Although the S&E graduate enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents declined since 2011, the number of Hispanic or Latino S&E graduate students has climbed steadily every year between 2008 and 2013, resulting in 25.8% growth over the five year period. The number of S&E graduate students reported to be in more than one race also grew every year since the new category was collected for the first time in 2008, from 1,319 students to 8,015 students in 2013.[2]

Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, graduate enrollment in S&E continued to become more diverse in 2013, with Asians and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders (8.9%), Hispanics or Latinos (8.6%), blacks or African Americans (8.1%), more than one race (2.1%), and American Indian or Alaska Native (0.6%) making up over 28% of total enrollments. In 2008, these groups combined made up less than a quarter of the U.S. citizen and permanent resident S&E graduate students.

The proportion of S&E graduate students who are women has fallen slightly (to around 43% since 2008), although this past year showed a 1.2% increase in women's overall enrollment (table 1).

Graduate Enrollment, by Field

In 2013, 73.2% of the 570,300 S&E graduate students were enrolled in science fields, and the remainder were enrolled in engineering. Graduate enrollment in the various science fields remained fairly flat from 2012 to 2013, except for computer sciences, which jumped by 8.8% and contributed to 1% growth of overall graduate enrollment in science from 2012 (table 2).

TABLE 2. Graduate enrollment in science and engineering, by field: 2008–13

a Includes communication, family and consumer sciences and human sciences, neuroscience, and multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary studies.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, NSF-NIH Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering.

Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

% change
Characteristic 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2012–13 2008–13
Science and engineering 529,275 545,685 556,532 560,941 561,418 570,300 1.6 7.8
Science 391,419 401,008 407,291 414,440 413,033 417,251 1.0 6.6
Agricultural sciences 14,153 15,200 15,656 16,129 16,234 16,429 1.2 16.1
Biological sciences 72,666 73,304 74,928 75,423 76,447 76,649 0.3 5.5
Computer sciences 49,553 51,161 51,546 51,234 51,789 56,339 8.8 13.7
Earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences 14,389 14,839 15,655 15,820 16,069 15,816 -1.6 9.9
Mathematical sciences 21,400 22,226 23,136 23,801 24,575 24,804 0.9 15.9
Physical sciences 37,319 38,149 38,973 39,694 39,928 40,019 0.2 7.2
Psychology 58,991 56,184 53,419 54,486 54,117 54,102 0.0 -8.3
Social sciences 103,384 107,820 109,220 111,661 108,169 107,278 -0.8 3.8
Other sciencesa 19,564 22,125 24,758 26,192 25,705 25,815 0.4 32.0
Engineering 137,856 144,677 149,241 146,501 148,385 153,049 3.1 11.0
Aerospace engineering 4,902 5,266 5,540 5,691 5,069 5,181 2.2 5.7
Biomedical engineering 7,339 7,904 8,497 9,175 9,157 9,198 0.4 25.3
Chemical engineering 7,892 8,188 8,668 8,828 9,222 9,698 5.2 22.9
Civil engineering 16,931 18,638 19,559 19,596 19,922 20,110 0.9 18.8
Electrical engineering 41,164 41,218 41,336 41,580 42,347 45,562 7.6 10.7
Industrial engineering 15,692 15,825 15,205 14,494 14,469 14,363 -0.7 -8.5
Mechanical engineering 19,585 21,243 22,509 21,883 23,088 24,087 4.3 23.0
Metallurgical and materials engineering 5,539 5,863 6,274 6,649 6,985 7,144 2.3 29.0
Other engineering 18,812 20,532 21,653 18,605 18,126 17,706 -2.3 19.3

The growth in graduate enrollment of computer science fields was fueled by a 19.8% increase in computer science foreign graduate students between 2012 and 2013 (figure 1).


FIGURE 1. Graduate students enrolled in computer science and electrical engineering, by citizenship status: 2007–13.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

In contrast, graduate enrollment in engineering fields grew by 3.1% from 2012 to 2013, bringing the total number of students to 153,049 and surpassing the previous high of 149,241 students in 2010. This growth is led by the increases in the number of graduate students in electrical engineering (7.6%), chemical engineering (5.2%), and mechanical engineering (4.3%) from 2012 to 2013. Aerospace engineering and metallurgical or materials engineering each also grew by more than 2% from 2012 to 2013.

As in computer science, foreign students contributed to the overall growth in electrical engineering graduate enrollment as their number grew 13.4% between 2012 and 2013. The foreign students represented 57.1% of computer science and 67.3% of electrical engineering graduate enrollments in 2013 compared to their respective shares of 47.3% and 60.5% in 2007 (figure 1).

Postdoctoral Appointees in S&E

Postdoc Profile

In 2013, a total of 43,395 postdoctoral appointees (postdocs) were conducting research in S&E fields at U.S. academic institutions and their affiliated research centers and hospitals. The total number of S&E postdocs declined slightly by 1.0% from 2012. This was mainly due to a decrease in the number of foreign postdocs (-2.1%), who constitute a majority (53.3%) of the S&E postdocs, although their share has decreased from a decade ago (59.8% in 2003).

The number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident postdocs remained around 20,200 in 2012 and 2013. Although the number of S&E postdocs dropped slightly for both men (-1.1%) and women (-0.8%) from 2012 to 2013, the share of female S&E postdocs has remained steady over the years, hovering near 36% (table 3).

TABLE 3. Postdoctoral appointees in science, engineering, and health, by sex, citizenship, ethnicity, race, and field: 2010–13

a Postdoc data from 2010 and 2011 were reimputed following the 2012 data collection; these data supersede those contained in previous reports.
b Ethnicity and race data are available for U.S. citizens and permanent residents only.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, NSF-NIH Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering.

Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

% change
Characteristic 2010a 2011a 2012 2013 2012–13 2010–13
All survey fields 63,439 62,639 62,851 61,942 -1.4 -2.4
Science and engineering 44,320 44,121 43,841 43,395 -1.0 -2.1
Male 28,531 28,314 28,176 27,858 -1.1 -2.4
Female 15,789 15,807 15,665 15,537 -0.8 -1.6
U.S. citizens and permanent residentsb 19,617 19,439 20,214 20,257 0.2 3.3
Asian 3,592 3,502 3,330 3,526 5.9 -1.8
Underrepresented minorities 1,573 1,791 1,703 1,914 13.3 21.7
American Indian or Alaska Native 62 66 51 71 39.2 14.5
Black or African American 564 610 615 667 8.5 18.3
Hispanic or Latino 813 901 862 961 18.2 18.2
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 53 53 63 50 -20.6 -5.7
More than one race 81 161 112 165 47.3 103.7
White 11,980 11,965 11,835 11,953 1.0 -0.2
Unknown ethnicity and race 3,285 3,082 3,346 2,864 -14.4 -12.8
Temporary visa holders 23,890 23,781 23,627 23,138 -2.1 -3.1
Science 37,351 37,335 36,738 36,289 -1.2 -2.8
Agricultural sciences 1,190 1,256 1,290 1,319 2.2 10.8
Biological sciences 21,726 21,107 20,086 19,330 -3.8 -11.0
Computer sciences 763 759 760 765 0.7 0.3
Earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences 1,740 1,774 1,956 2,032 3.9 16.8
Mathematical sciences 791 830 902 932 3.3 17.8
Physical sciences 7,583 7,490 7,430 7,197 -3.1 -5.1
Psychology 1,132 1,124 1,132 1,023 -9.6 -9.6
Social sciences 711 774 799 938 17.4 31.9
Other sciences 1,715 2,221 2,383 2,753 15.5 60.5
Engineering 6,969 6,786 7,103 7,106 0.0 2.0
Biomedical engineering 1,023 1,069 1,161 1,103 -5.0 7.8
Chemical engineering 1,077 1,137 1,098 1,230 12.0 14.2
Civil engineering 571 551 590 587 -0.5 2.8
Electrical engineering 1,095 1,035 1,152 1,180 2.4 7.8
Mechanical engineering 1,021 889 985 1,034 5.0 1.3
Metallurgical and materials engineering 841 860 854 809 -5.3 -3.8
Other engineering 1,341 1,245 1,263 1,163 -11.7 -13.3
Health 19,119 18,518 19,010 18,547 -2.4 -3.0

Between 2010 and 2013, the number of S&E postdocs who were underrepresented minorities (American Indian or Alaska Native, black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, or more than one race) increased by 21.7%, from 1,573 to 1,914. However, these underrepresented minorities still account for less than 10% of the U.S. citizen and permanent resident postdocs in S&E.

Postdocs, by Field

Although most S&E postdocs in 2013 were conducting research in science fields (83.6%), this proportion has steadily declined over the past decade from 88.7% in 2003. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of postdocs in science fields declined by 2.8%, with the largest drops occurring in the two largest science fields: biological sciences (-11.0%) and physical sciences (-5.1%).

The number of postdocs in engineering fields has grown steadily over time; as of 2013, 16.4% of all S&E postdocs were in engineering, up from 11.3% in 2003. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of engineering postdocs increased by 2.0%, with the largest increases in chemical engineering (14.2%), biomedical engineering (7.8%), and electrical engineering (7.8%).

Data Sources and Limitations

Conducted since 1966, the GSS is an annual survey of all academic institutions in the United States granting research-based master's or doctoral degrees in science, engineering, or selected health fields. The 2013 GSS collected data from 15,942 organizational units (departments, programs, affiliated research centers, and health care facilities) at 564 institutions of higher education and their affiliates in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The institutional response rate was 99.7%. An overview of the survey is available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/srvygradpostdoc/.

GSS health fields are collected under the advisement of NIH. These GSS fields make up about one-third of all health fields in the U.S. Department of Education's Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) taxonomy.[3] NIH information on trends seen within these selected health fields can be found at http://www.report.nih.gov/nihdatabook/.

In 2011, the GSS field taxonomy was updated to conform to the 2010 CIP. The impact on overall GSS counts as a result of this change was minimal. See appendix A, "Technical Notes," in Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 2011 (NSF 13-331) for additional information about the 2011 GSS field taxonomy updates.

Data tables from the 2013 GSS will be available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/srvygradpostdoc/. For more information, contact the author.

Notes

[1] Kelly H. Kang, Human Resources Statistics Program, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (kkang@nsf.gov; 703-292-7796).

[2] Reporting of ethnicity and race in 2008–13 has been affected by changes in the reporting of ethnicity and race in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Starting in 2008, IPEDS respondents were asked to use a new classification that included a category for two or more races and separate reporting of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders from Asians. The new classification was optional in 2008 and 2009 IPEDS but mandatory beginning in 2010 and may have contributed to a significant increase in the reporting of Not Hispanic or Latino, More than one race.

[3] The CIP provides a taxonomic scheme that supports the consistent reporting of fields of study and program completions activity. For more information, see http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cipcode/.