More science and engineering doctoral degrees awarded in 2003


NSF data describe recipients

Arlington, Va.-- After a 1998 high, the number of science and engineering (S&E) doctorates awarded by U.S. institutions has been declining. Now, according to new data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the 25,258 S&E doctorates awarded during the 2002-2003 academic year represent a 2.8 percent upward tick. But despite that increase, the number of S&E doctorates awarded remains 7.4 percent below the 1998 peak.

The NSF report, Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards: 2003, also indicates the newly graduated cohort of all doctorates represents the diverse heritage of the U.S. population. Members of racial or ethnic minority groups earned 4,528 doctorates, representing 17 percent of the U.S. citizens earning research doctorates in 2003 the highest percentage yet the survey has recorded. Minorities represent 24 percent of the general U.S. population. The number of S&E doctorates awarded to members of underrepresented minority groups only slightly decreased from 1354 to 1337.

United States citizens received 68 percent of all doctorates earned in 2003 for which citizenship was identified (95 percent of doctorate recipients identify their citizenship). The number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents earning S&E doctorates increased from 15,508 in 2002 to 15,669 in 2003, while S&E doctorates awarded to people with temporary visas increased from 7,688 to 8,388.

"People who are concerned about U.S. science and engineering education may be encouraged by these numbers," said Joan Burrelli, an NSF senior analyst. "However, beneath the totals, we should note that the number of doctorates in some engineering fields (e.g., chemical engineering) did not increase, and decreases occurred in some of the biological sciences, physics, earth sciences, and some of the social sciences."

Some things, however, stayed the same. For instance, women received 45 percent of all doctorates granted in 2003 and 51 percent of the doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens--the same as in 2002.

And, as in previous surveys, newly enrolled graduate students took about 7.5 years to receive their doctorates, according to Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report 2003, released by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), which conducts the survey for NSF.

The survey also collects information about how doctorate recipients financed their doctoral education and what their employment plans are. Most (66 percent) of the 2003 doctorate recipients received most of their financial support from university fellowships, teaching or research assistantships, and other program or institutional sources. Exactly half reported no educational indebtedness when they received their degrees; 17 percent reported debt levels of more than $35,000.

The 2003 analysis includes a special section about where doctorate recipients received their undergraduate degrees. Over a five-year period (1999-2003), about 73 percent of the 186,868 doctorate holders earned their undergraduate degrees from U.S. institutions, while the rest earned those degrees from institutions abroad prior to coming to the United State to pursue graduate study. For S&E fields, doctorate recipients are more likely to have earned their undergraduate degrees outside the United States (33 percent of S&E versus 16 percent of non-S&E). The largest foreign contributors of students with undergraduate degrees to U.S. doctoral programs were Seoul National University (1,655), National Taiwan University (1,190) and Beijing University (1,153).

"These data give us new insights into the links within the worldwide university community," said Tom Hoffer, director of the NORC survey project at the University of Chicago. "We can see how the patterns of education differ by field and nationality as well as examining the major institutions, both in the United States and abroad."

The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) is an annual census of research doctorate recipients conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago under a contract with NSF's Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS). The full report is available at: Complete data about S&E doctorate awards are published in NSF's Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards: 2003 (

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports science and engineering research, and education programs, as well as the reporting of statistical information on broad areas of national interest. NSF funds the nationwide, all-fields doctorate survey and the detailed science and engineering data tables. The National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education are also major funders. Additional support comes from NASA, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Department of Agriculture.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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