Science Resources Studies Division
DATA BRIEF Directorate for
Social, Behavioral
and Economic

National Science Foundation
NSF 98-302, February 23, 1998

Graduate Enrollment of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering Continues to Rise

by Joan S. Burrelli

Foreign S&E graduate student enrollment has been declining since 1993.

Recent trends in science and engineering (S&E) graduate enrollment continued for most population subgroups. The number of women enrolled in graduate S&E programs, which has been rising continuously since 1980, increased 1.0 percent from 1995 to 1996. The number of men enrolled in graduate S&E programs fell 3.3 percent during the same period, continuing a series of declines since a 1992 peak enrollment (chart 1). As a result of women's rising enrollment and men's falling enrollment, women's share of graduate S&E enrollment reached a high of 39 percent in 1996.


Among U.S. citizen and permanent resident graduate students in 1996, 11 percent were members of underrepresented minority groups: 6 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic, and 0.5 percent American Indian. Enrollment of black, Hispanic, and American Indian graduate students in S&E has also been increasing over the years (chart 2). From 1995 to 1996, enrollment of blacks rose 4 percent; American Indians, 2 percent; and Hispanics, 4 percent.


The increase in enrollment of underrepresented minorities[1] occurred among both men and women within each group (chart 3). Enrollment of U.S. citizen and permanent resident Asians increased 0.3 percent, although enrollment of Asian men decreased. Enrollment of white students dropped 3.1 percent with enrollment of white men decreasing 4.5 percent and enrollment of white women decreasing 1 percent.


A decline in the number of foreign S&E graduate students, evident over the past four years, appears to be abating. The number of foreign S&E graduate students fell by 0.4 percent from 1995 to 1996. In each of the three preceding years, enrollment of foreign students dropped by about 3.5 percent per year. The drop from 1995 to 1996 was confined to men; enrollment of women increased 2.7 percent and enrollment of men dropped 1.9 percent.

Total graduate S&E enrollment declined for the third year in a row.

Total graduate S&E enrollment declined in 1996 as it has since 1994. The three years of declining enrollment followed 15 years of steady gains in enrollment. Enrollment dropped in all major fields with the exception of computer sciences (in which enrollment rose 3 percent). The largest decreases were in the physical sciences (down 3 percent) and engineering (down 4 percent). The number of students enrolled in graduate S&E programs for the first time, which has been decreasing since 1992, dropped another 1 percent in 1996, indicating likely continuing decreases in total enrollment in the near future.

Data presented in this Data Brief were obtained from the 1996 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. Data were collected from approximately 11,400 departments at 603 institutions of higher education. The departmental response rate was 98.1 percent; however, 13 percent of the responding departments required partial imputation for missing data. More detailed data are available in the forthcoming report, Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 1996.

This Data Brief was prepared by:

Joan Burrelli
National Science Foundation
Division of Science Resources Studies
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965,
Arlington, VA 22230.

For free copies of SRS Data Briefs, write to the above address, call 301-947-2722, or send e-mail to



[1] The term "minority" includes all groups other than white; "underrepresented minorities" includes three groups whose representation in S&E is less than their representation in the general population: blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians.

[2] Trends in student enrollment by citizenship are complicated by two factors: (1) In 1991 and earlier years, permanent residents in this survey were included with foreign students. Beginning in 1992, permanent residents were included with U.S. citizens. (2) The Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992 allowed Chinese students to apply for permanent residency in 1993. As the result of both factors, the number of foreign graduate students was lower than it would have been had these factors not occurred and the number of U.S. citizen graduate students was higher than it would have been.

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