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Graduate Enrollment in Science and Engineering Programs Up in 2003, but Declines for First-Time Foreign Students
Graduate enrollment in science and engineering (S&E) programs reached an all-time high of 474,203 students in fall 2003 (table 1), a gain of 4 percent over S&E enrollment in 2002 and a gain of 9 percent over 1993. Between 2002 and 2003 S&E graduate enrollment increased by 19,311 students: 18,052 U.S. citizens and permanent visa holders and 1,259 temporary visa holders. U.S. institutions reported 33,685 postdoctoral appointees (postdocs) in S&E fields, also an all-time high.Table 1 Source Data: Excel file
Trends in Graduate Enrollment
Full-time S&E enrollment exceeded 339,000 in 2003a gain of 4 percent from the previous year. Full-time students constituted 72 percent of all S&E graduate students in 2003, compared with 67 percent in 1993. Although part-time enrollment also grew 4 percent between fall 2002 and fall 2003, the long-term trend shows an increasing proportion of full-time enrollment.
About 26 percent of full-time S&E graduate students in 2003 were enrolled for the first time. First-time, fulltime enrollment grew almost 3 percent between 2002 and 2003 to more than 89,000, an all-time peak.
Field of Study
Graduate enrollment in 2003 grew in all major S&E fields and in all subfields except computer sciences (table 2). Computer sciences enrollment dropped 3 percent from the previous year, the first decrease in that field since 1995. Of the fields of study with the largest graduate enrollments (10,000 or more), mechanical engineering led with an 8 percent gain, followed by mathematical sciences and physics, each with 7 percent gains.Table 2 Source Data: Excel file
The proportion of women among S&E graduate students grew from 36 percent in 1993 to 42 percent in 2003 (table 1). The number of female students has increased every year since 1983 and in 2003 increased 5 percent. In contrast, after reaching a peak of 279,185 in 1993, enrollment of men declined every year from 1993 to 1998. The number of male graduate students in S&E fields in 2003 was up 4 percent over 2002 but was still below the 1993 peak enrollment.
Over the past decade, enrollment of minority students in graduate S&E programs has grown, whereas enrollment of white students has declined (table 3). In 2003 white enrollment rose 4 percent over the 2002 figure but remained below the 1993 peak. White, non-Hispanic students accounted for 68 percent of all U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in S&E graduate programs in 2003, down from 78 percent in 1993. Asians/Pacific Islanders were the second largest race/ethnicity group among U.S. citizens and permanent residents in S&E graduate programs in 2003, accounting for 10 percent of enrollment. They were followed by blacks (7 percent), Hispanics (6 percent), and American Indians/Alaska Natives (less than 1 percent). Increases from 2002 to 2003 in S&E graduate enrollment for minority students ranged from 6 percent for blacks to 11 percent for Asians/Pacific Islanders. Underrepresented minority enrollment (black, non-Hispanic; Hispanic; or American Indian/Alaska Native) continued to grow and in 2003 accounted for 14 percent of the U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled.Table 3 Source Data: Excel file
The number and proportion of foreign students (graduate students with temporary visas) increased every year from 1997 through 2002 (table 3). Although the number of temporary-visa holders rose in 2003, temporary-visa holders as a proportion of all S&E graduate students declined slightly, from 32 to 31 percent. Between 2002 and 2003 the number of students with temporary visas increased by almost 1,300, compared with increases of over 10,000 in each of the previous 3 years.
In 2003 students with temporary visas were more likely to enroll full time in a graduate S&E program than were U.S. citizens and permanent residents (table 3). Eighty-six percent of temporary-visa holders were enrolled full time, compared with 65 percent of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. But for the first time since 1994, the growth in full-time enrollment was greater for U.S. citizens and permanent residents (7 percent) than it was for foreign students (less than 1 percent). This trend reversal was also seen in part-time graduate enrollments. Although part-time graduate enrollment for temporary visa holders increased, the gain (3 percent) was less than that of previous years and is below the gain for U.S. citizens and permanent residents (5 percent).
For the second consecutive year, first-time, full-time enrollment declined among students with temporary visas and increased among U.S. citizens and permanent residents. After a decline of 6 percent between 2001 and 2002, first-time, full-time enrollment of students with temporary visas fell 8 percent in 2003. As a result, 20 percent of temporary-visa holders were first-time, full-time students in 2003, compared with 26 percent in 2000. Between 2002 and 2003 the number of full-time, first-time students with temporary visas declined by 2,600, with almost all of the decrease being among male students (table 4).Table 4 Source Data: Excel file
The 20-year trend for graduate S&E enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents shows less growth and more years of decline than does the trend for temporary-visa holders. The enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents in 2003 was 1 percent below peak enrollment, in 1993. The rise in 2003 represents the largest numerical increase in S&E graduate enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents in the past two decades.
The overall declines in first-time, full-time enrollment of students with temporary visas did not occur in all S&E fields. In 2003 the number of full-time students with temporary visas who were enrolled for the first time declined in agricultural sciences, in computer sciences, in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences, and in engineering (figure 1). Enrollment for this group increased in biological sciences, mathematical sciences, physical sciences, and psychology. The field of study with the greatest percent gain in temporary-visa holder enrollment was psychology; computer sciences had the greatest drop. In contrast, first-time, full-time enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents increased in every major field.Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file
About 33,700 postdocs held postdoctoral positions in U.S. academic institutions in 2003, a 6 percent increase from 2002. Of this number, most (60 percent) were temporary-visa holders (table 3). The 2003 increase in postdocs with temporary visas (9 percent) was almost six times the 2002 rate of increase (1.5 percent) and resembled the gains recorded in 2000 and 1999 (8 and 9 percent, respectively). In contrast, the number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents holding postdoctoral positions in U.S. colleges and universities increased by less than 1 percent in 2003, compared with a 12 percent increase in 2002.
Data presented here are from the fall 2003 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. Data were collected from approximately 12,000 departments at 591 institutions of higher education in the United States and outlying areas. The department response rate was 99 percent; however, 13 percent of the reporting departments required partial imputation of missing data.
More detailed data are available in the forthcoming report "Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 2003," which will be available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/.
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 The data do not distinguish between new postdocs and continuing postdocs.