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Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering

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Technical Notes

The data in this report come from surveys conducted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), other federal agencies, and nonfederal organizations. Users should take great care when comparing survey data from these different sources. Differences in definitions, survey procedures, and phrasing of questions, among other things, make these data less than strictly comparable. Efforts have been made to maintain consistency throughout these tables, but it has sometimes been necessary, for accuracy, to use distinct terminology that does not match that used in other tables.

Reporting Categories

Racial/Ethnic Information

The collection and reporting of race/ethnicity data pose several problems. First, both the naming of population subgroups and their definitions have changed over time. Second, many of the groups of particular interest are quite small, so it is difficult to measure them accurately without surveys of the entire population of interest. In some instances, sample surveys may not have had sufficient sample size to permit the calculation of reliable racial/ethnic population estimates for all groups; consequently, data are not shown for some groups. The U.S. Bureau of the Census's Current Population Survey, for example, cannot provide data on American Indians. Third, data on race/ethnicity are often based on self-identification. These data are less reliable for some racial/ethnic groups than for others (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1995). Fourth, it is easy to overlook or minimize heterogeneity within subgroups when only a single statistic is reported for a total racial/ethnic group.

OMB Categories and Guidelines

In October 1997 the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced new government-wide standards for the collection of data on race and ethnicity ( effective 1 January 2003. OMB specified the following categories and definitions of racial/ethnic groups:

Previously, racial/ethnic groups were identified as white, black, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native. Because data on undergraduate enrollment and degree data were still collected under the old standards through 2008, the racial/ethnic groups described in those tables are designated by the old categories. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) changed race/ethnicity reporting in fall 2008 for completions/degrees and enrollments data. However, for the completions/degrees data, reporting in the new categories was optional through the 2010–11 data collection cycle; it will become mandatory for the 2011–12 data collection (i.e., 2011 data). For the fall enrollment data, reporting in the new categories was optional through the 2009–10 data collection cycle and became mandatory for the 2010–11 data collection (i.e., 2010 data). For more information, see Similarly, because few schools collected racial/ethnic data according to the new standards and few reported graduate enrollment according to the new standards, the racial/ethnic groups described in the graduate enrollment tables are designated by the old categories (see below for more detailed information). NCES and graduate enrollment data by race/ethnicity in this report refer to U.S. citizens and permanent residents only.

Minority-Serving Institutions

High-Hispanic-enrollment institutions are nonprofit public and private institutions of higher education whose full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment of undergraduate students is at least 25% Hispanic, according to enrollment data that institutions reported to the fall 2006 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) survey. (This survey is conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]). NCES determined FTE enrollment by estimating that approximately three part-time students are equivalent to one full-time student. Because IPEDS does not collect part-time credit hour information, the FTE numbers are only an approximation. The list includes only nonprofit public and private institutions of higher education.

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are institutions listed by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, defines an HBCU as "any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation."

Tribal colleges are colleges that are members of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and that are included as tribal colleges in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s 2005 basic classification scheme. See and

Information About People with Disabilities

For several reasons, data are seriously limited on people with disabilities who study or work in science and engineering (S&E). First, the operational definitions of disability vary, can include a wide range of physical and mental conditions, and may not be comparable. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) encouraged progress toward standard definitions. Under ADA, an individual is considered to have a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his or her major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. ADA also contains definitions of specific disabilities.

Second, data on disabilities frequently are not included in comprehensive institutional records (e.g., in registrars' records in institutions of higher education). If included at all, such data may be kept only in confidential files at an office responsible for providing special services to students. Institutions of higher education are unlikely to have information regarding students with disabilities who have not requested special services related to their disabilities from the institutions. In elementary/secondary school programs receiving funds to provide special education, however, statistics on all students identified as having special needs are centrally available.

Third, information about people with disabilities that is gathered from surveys is often obtained from self-reported responses. Typically, respondents are asked to state whether they have a disability and to specify what kind of disability it is. Resulting data therefore reflect individual perceptions rather than standard judgments using consistent criteria.

Variation in estimates of the proportion of the undergraduate student population with disabilities is evidence of the limitations of these data. Self-reported data on the undergraduate student population, collected through a survey to ascertain patterns of student financial aid, suggest that about 10% of this population have some disability. Estimates from population surveys of higher education institutions, in contrast, place the estimate much lower, between 1% and 5%. Whether this discrepancy is the result of self-perception, incomplete reporting, disabilities that are not evident, or differing definitions is difficult to ascertain.

In the final analysis, although considerable information is available about individuals with disabilities in the educational system and in the S&E workforce, it is often impossible to compare estimates from different sources.

Several sources of data on people with disabilities are cited here. They include the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) conducted by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES); the NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED); and the NSF Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT). These sources are described in more detail later in this appendix; the following is a brief description of how each source treats the issue of disability.

Primary Data Sources

Data from several sources are presented here. This section provides summary descriptions of major sources and information about the location of more detailed survey descriptions.

Primary NSF Sources

The following sources from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) division of NSF were used for data tables in this publication. Published data tables from these surveys can be accessed on the NCSES website at In addition, researchers may access data directly from the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT) or the WebCASPAR database system, which also can be accessed from the NCSES website.

Survey of Earned Doctorates

The SED has been conducted annually since 1957 for NSF, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institutes of Health, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This survey is of all recipients of research doctoral degrees from U.S. institutions. SED data are restricted to research doctorates, such as the doctor of philosophy (PhD) or doctor of science (DSc); it excludes the recipients of professional degrees, such as the juris doctor (JD) or doctor of medicine (MD).

Data for the SED are collected directly from individual doctorate recipients contacted through graduate deans at all U.S. universities awarding research doctorates. The recipients are asked to provide information about the fields and specialties of their degrees as well as their personal educational histories, selected demographic data, and information about their postgraduate work and study plans. Since the survey’s inception, more than 90% of the annual cohort of doctorate recipients has responded to the questionnaire every year except two (1973 and 1974).

Partial data from public sources, such as field of study, are added to the file for nonrespondents. No other adjustments for nonresponse are made, however, if data are not available elsewhere (e.g., race/ethnicity information). The data for a given year include all doctorates awarded in the 12-month period ending on 30 June of that year. Information about the SED can be found at

Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering

The data collected in the Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS) represent national estimates of graduate enrollment and postdoctoral employment (postdocs) at the beginning of the academic year in all academic institutions in the United States that offer doctoral or master's degree programs in any S&E or health field. Included are data for all branch campuses; affiliated research centers; and separately organized components, such as medical or dental schools, schools of nursing, and schools of public health. The survey population consists of approximately 570 graduate institutions. Data are collected separately for each eligible organizational unit (academic department or program, research center, or health facility).

Approximately 99% of institutions and units respond to the survey. Missing data for nonrespondent units are imputed using prior years’ data, where available, or data provided by similar units at a peer institution.

The tables in this report present only 2010 data. In 2010, the postdoc section of the survey was expanded and significant effort was made to ensure that appropriate personnel were providing postdoc data (see for more information). As a result, it is unclear how much of the increase reported in 2010 represents growth in postdoctoral appointments and how much results from improved data collection.

In 2007, GSS-eligible fields were reclassified, newly eligible fields were added, and the survey was redesigned to improve coverage and coding of GSS-eligible units. Communication as well as family and consumer science/human science were added to the survey as science fields. Multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary studies, which may have been reported under other fields, was also added as a separate science field. Architecture, which had previously been reported under civil engineering, was reclassified as a separate engineering field. Neuroscience, which had previously been reported under health field “neurology”, was reclassified as a science field. Survey respondents were also asked to review and update each organizational unit’s assigned field of study. As a result, after 2006, survey respondents changed the field assignment of students in some units from those made in previous years.

Due to these methodological changes, the data collected in 2007–10 are not strictly comparable to those collected before 2007. As a result, care should be used when assessing trends within the GSS data.

In 1999, the survey presented respondents with new race/ethnicity categories:

These changes are not reflected in the tables in this report. Currently, fewer than 8% of the units report data in any of the new categories. For the tables in this report, as in other publications using these data, the data reported in the new categories are classified into the previous survey categories. The data are combined for the tables as follows: the "Asian" category and the "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander" category form the "Asian or Pacific Islander" category; the "one race only Hispanic/Latino" category and the "more than one race Hispanic or Latino" category form the "Hispanic" category; and the "more than one race that is not Hispanic or Latino" category and the "ethnicity/race unknown" category form the "other or unknown" category. Reporting of race/ethnicity in 2008–10 GSS has been affected by changes in reporting of race/ethnicity in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Starting in 2008, IPEDS respondents were asked to use a new race/ethnicity classification that included a category for two or more races (see and separate reporting of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders from Asians. New classification was optional in 2008 and 2009 IPEDS Fall Enrollments but mandatory in 2010 and may have contributed to significant increase in GSS reporting of "More than one race," not Hispanic or Latino.

Information about GSS can be found at

SESTAT Data System

The SESTAT data system integrates data from three NCSES surveys—the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), the National Survey of College Graduates, and the National Survey of Recent College Graduates (NSRCG). The integration of the SESTAT surveys requires complementary samples, target populations, and reference periods; matching survey questions, procedures, and field definitions; and weighting adjustments for overlapping populations.

The surveys provide data on educational background, employment status, occupation, and demographic characteristics. These surveys are of individuals and currently combine to include over 112,000 respondents representing a population of about 26.9 million scientists and engineers, including people trained in S&E or S&E-related fields or working in S&E or S&E-related occupations. Each of the three surveys that contribute to the SESTAT data system collects new data every 2 years.

SESTAT defines scientists and engineers as residents of the United States, Puerto Rico, or another U.S. territory with a baccalaureate degree or higher who, as of the study's reference week of 1 October 2010, were not institutionalized, were age 75 or younger, and were either educated as or working as a scientist or engineer. A baccalaureate or higher degree is a bachelor's, master's, doctoral, or professional degree. To meet the scientist or engineer definition, the U.S. resident had to (1) have at least one baccalaureate or higher degree in an S&E or S&E-related field or (2) as of 1 October 2010, have a baccalaureate or higher degree in a non-S&E field but work in an S&E or S&E-related occupation. Some elements of SESTAT's desired target population were not included within the target populations of any of the three SESTAT component surveys. S&E or S&E-related personnel missing from the survey frames in 2010 are primarily foreign-educated scientists and engineers who came to the United States after 1 January 2009 and people with non-S&E degrees who took S&E or S&E-related jobs after 1 October 2010.

SESTAT classifies the following broad categories as S&E occupations: computer and mathematical scientists, life and related scientists, physical and related scientists, social and related scientists, and engineers. Postsecondary teachers are included within each of these groups. The following are considered S&E-related occupations: health and related occupations; S&E managers; S&E precollege teachers; S&E technicians and technologists, including computer programmers; and other S&E-related occupations, such as architects and actuaries. All other occupations are non-S&E occupations. Among the largest are non-S&E managers; non-S&E teachers; social services and related occupations; and sales and marketing occupations. Information on SESTAT can be found at

Data from two of the SESTAT surveys, the SDR and the NSRCG, are also presented separately in this report. The sample for the 2010 SDR included individuals living in the United States, Puerto Rico or another U.S. territory on 1 October 2010 who had earned a research doctoral degree from a U.S. college or university in a science, engineering, or health field through 30 June 2009 and were younger than age 76. For those earning their degree prior to 2001, the sampling frame included all U.S. citizens along with non-U.S. citizens who planned to remain in the U.S. after receiving their doctoral degree. For those earning their degree in 2001 or later, the sampling frame included all doctorates regardless of their plans to remain in the U.S. or to go abroad. The total sample size for the 2010 SDR was 45,697. The weighted response rate was 80% and included 31,462 respondents who were living in the United States, Puerto Rico or another U.S. territory on 1 October 2010.

The sample for the 2010 NSRCG included individuals living in the United States, Puerto Rico or another U.S. territory on 1 October 2010 who had earned a bachelor's or master's degree from a U.S. college or university in a science, engineering, or health field between 1 July 2007 and 30 June 2009 and were younger than age 76. In 2010 the NSRCG sample size was 18,000. The overall weighted response rate was 70% and included 12,326 respondents who were living in the United States, Puerto Rico or another U.S. territory on 1 October 2010.

Primary Non-NSF Sources

The following non-NSF sources were used for data tables in this report.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Survey: Fall Enrollment, Completions, and Institutional Characteristics

National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education (

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Survey began in 1986 as a supplement to and replacement for the Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), which began in 1966. HEGIS annually surveyed institutions listed in the current NCES Education Directory of Colleges and Universities; IPEDS surveys all postsecondary institutions, including universities and colleges and the institutions that offer technical and vocational education. The completion of all IPEDS surveys is mandatory for all institutions that participate in or are applicants for participation in any federal financial assistance program authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended. IPEDS comprises several integrated component surveys. These surveys obtain information about types of institutions where postsecondary education is available, student participants, fall enrollments, programs offered and completed, graduation rates, and the human and financial resources involved in the delivery of postsecondary education. Descriptions of these surveys follow.

IPEDS Fall Enrollment Survey. This survey replaces and extends the previous HEGIS surveys of enrollment in institutions of higher education.

IPEDS Completions Survey. This survey replaces and extends the HEGIS Degrees and Other Formal Awards Conferred Survey. It is administered to all institutions offering degrees at the bachelor's degree level and above, 2-year institutions, and less-than-2-year institutions.

NCES changed degree-level categories in the IPEDS Completions Survey in fall 2008, but reporting in the new categories was optional for 2008 and 2009 data. Reporting in the new degree-level categories was mandatory for the 2010–11 (2010 data) IPEDS Completions collection. Before 2008 the post-baccalaureate degree categories were "master’s," "first professional," and "doctor’s." With the 2008 changes, the category "first professional" degree is no longer used. Programs and awards in that category (e.g., medicine, law, pharmacy, theology) are now reclassified as either master’s degrees or as one of three types of doctor’s degrees: doctor’s–research/scholarship, doctor’s–professional practice, or doctor’s–other. Numbers reported here for 2008 and 2009 doctoral degrees combine doctor’s degrees reported by institutions using the pre-2008 reporting categories and doctor’s–research/scholarship degrees reported by institutions using the 2008 reporting categories. Data for 2010 include only doctorates reported as doctor’s–research/scholarship.

Through 1995, IPEDS reports were concerned primarily with the subset of postsecondary institutions that were accredited at the college level by an agency recognized by the Secretary, U.S. Department of Education. The Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering report presented degree counts from this same subset of institutions. Beginning with 1996 data, NCES categorized the postsecondary institutional universe on the basis of degree-granting status as well as eligibility for Title IV federal financial aid (based on a list of eligible institutions maintained by the Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education). This change expanded the types of institutions whose data appear in NCES reports to include for-profit and online institutions. NCSES chose to retain the earlier, less inclusive institutional coverage criterion for the data in the Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering report. As a result, beginning with the 1996 edition, the degree counts presented in the Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering report diverged from the degree counts reported by IPEDS. Beginning in 2009, the Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering report adopted the more inclusive institutional coverage of the IPEDS reports, and the degree counts from 2000 forward are now based on the larger set of institutions. Thus, data for 2000 and later are based on degree-granting institutions eligible to participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs and do not match data published before 2009 that were based on accredited higher education institutions.

The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study

National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education (

The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) was established by NCES to collect information about financial aid allocated to students enrolled in U.S. postsecondary institutions. NPSAS was first administered in the fall of the 1986–87 academic year. NCES conducted subsequent cycles of NPSAS during the 1989–90, 1992–93, 1995–96, 1999–2000, 2003–04, and 2007–08 academic years.

The 2007–08 survey gathered information from about 127,700 undergraduate and graduate students selected from registrars' lists of enrollees at more than 1,900 postsecondary institutions. Student information, such as field of study, educational level, and attendance status (part time or full time), was obtained from registrars' records. Types and amounts of financial aid and family financial characteristics were abstracted from school financial aid records. Data pertaining to family circumstances, background demographic characteristics, educational and work experiences, and expectations were collected from students using self-administered or interviewer-administered, Web-based interviews. The weighted response rate was 96%.

Current Population Survey

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly household survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It provides data on employment and unemployment by age, sex, race, and a variety of other characteristics. CPS surveys approximately 60,000 households through personal and telephone interviews. Basic labor-force data are gathered monthly; data on special topics are gathered in periodic supplements. Consecutive monthly estimates are often averaged to produce quarterly or annual average estimates. Monthly response rates are generally above 90%.

Survey of Engineering and Technology Enrollments and Survey of Engineering and Technology Degrees

Engineering Workforce Commission, American Association of Engineering Societies (

The Engineering Workforce Commission (EWC) annually conducts surveys of engineering and engineering technologies enrollments and degrees conferred in more than 600 institutions, including all of those with curricula approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). EWC counts the number of students studying for engineering degrees at all ABET-accredited engineering schools throughout the United States and also some schools that are not ABET-accredited for a variety of reasons unique to each school (e.g., some schools are in the process of obtaining ABET accreditation; others have simply asked to be included in the survey.) The fall 2008 enrollments survey obtained responses from about 85% of the schools. Data for nonrespondent schools were imputed.

Sampling and Nonsampling Errors

The data from all of the sources used for this report are subject to error. Survey accuracy is determined by the joint effects of sampling and nonsampling errors. Sampling errors arise because estimates based on a sample differ from figures that would have been obtained if a complete population had been surveyed. The sample selected for any particular survey is only one of a large number of possible samples of the same size and design that could have been selected. Even if all other aspects of the survey remained fixed, such as the questionnaire and instructions, the estimates from each sample would differ. This variability, termed sampling error, occurs by chance and is measured by the standard error associated with a particular estimate.

The standard error of a sample survey estimate measures the precision with which an estimate from one sample approximates the true population value, and it can be used to construct a confidence interval for a survey parameter to assess the accuracy of the estimate. See for more information about data from SESTAT, for Current Population Survey design and methodology, and for information on standard errors for NPSAS data.

Nonsampling errors can arise from design, reporting, and processing errors as well as from errors due to nonresponses or faulty responses. Nonsampling errors include respondent-based events, such as some respondents interpreting questions differently from other respondents, respondents making estimates rather than giving actual data, and respondents being unable or unwilling to provide complete, correct information. Errors can also arise during the processing of responses, such as during recording and keying. Nonsampling errors are difficult to measure and estimates of nonsampling errors are not available for data in this report.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 1995. A Test of Methods for Collecting Racial and Ethnic Information. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor. Available at