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

National Science Foundation
NSF 99-316, December 17, 1998

Total Science and Engineering Graduate Enrollment Falls for Fourth Consecutive Year

Kristen Olson

Graduate enrollment of women and underrepresented minorities rose despite overall declines.









The number of students enrolled in science and engineering (S&E) in the United States at the graduate level fell for the fourth year in a row in 1997 (figure 1). In 1996, 415,363 graduate students were enrolled in S&E fields; this number had dropped 2 percent by 1997 to 407,644. This 2 percent decline held for both science and engineering enrollments: the number of science graduate students dropped from 312,140 to 306,636, and the number of engineering graduate students fell from 103,223 to 101,008. Part-time enrollments decreased more than did full time. Full-time student enrollment dropped 1 percent, from 284,194 in 1996 to 280,612 in 1997; while part-time enrollment decreased by 3 percent.

Figure 1

S&E graduate enrollment trends varied by sex. Among men, enrollment in S&E continued to decline, as it has since 1993, dropping 3 percent from 253,629 in 1996 to 245,615 in 1997. On the other hand, the number of women enrolled in S&E graduate school rose slightly, increasing from 161,734 to 162,029. In 1997, women were 40 percent of S&E graduate students (table 1).

Table 1

Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the numbers of black, Hispanic, and American Indian S&E graduate students increased again in 1997. Black S&E graduate students rose 1.5 percent from 19,071 in 1996 to 19,363 in 1997; the number of Hispanics increased 2.4 percent from 14,638 to 14,988; and the number of American Indians increased 3.9 percent from 1,539 to 1,599. In contrast, the number of white S&E graduate students decreased by 4.3 percent, from 238,077 in 1996 to 227,936 in 1997. Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students together accounted for 9 percent of U.S. citizen and permanent resident S&E graduate students in 1997. The number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident Asian graduate students in S&E increased less than 1 percent, from 25,947 in 1996 to 26,078 in 1997.

The number of foreign S&E graduate students rose by 0.7 percent in 1997 to 98,809, reversing a decline evident over the past four years. Between 1992 and 1995, enrollment of foreign students dropped by about 3.5 percent per year[1] from a peak of 109,462 in 1992 to 98,538 in 1995. In 1996, the decline leveled off with the number of foreign S&E graduate students falling by 0.4 percent to 98,154.

In 1997, graduate enrollment dropped in all major S&E fields with the exceptions of the computer sciences and electrical engineering. Enrollment declines were greatest in civil engineering (down 8 percent); mathematics (down 7 percent); industrial engineering (down 5 percent); physical sciences (down 4 percent); earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences (down 4 percent); and aerospace engineering (down 4 percent). Graduate enrollment in computer sciences, which had dropped in the early 1990s, increased in the last two years, growing 3 percent from 1995-96 and another 4 percent from 1996-97 (table 2).

Table 2

Data presented in this Data Brief were obtained from the 1997 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. Data were collected from approximately 11,600 departments at 601 institutions of higher education in the United States and outlying areas. The departmental response rate was 98.3 percent; however, 14 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 1997.

This Data Brief was prepared by:

Kristen Olson
Division of Science Resources Statistics
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965
Arlington, VA 22230


[1] Trends in foreign student enrollment 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 from 1992-94 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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