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First-time S&E Graduate Enrollment of Foreign Students Drops for the Third Straight Year
NSF 06-321 | July 2006 | PDF format PDF format  

2004 marks the third straight year of declining first-time, full-time enrollments of foreign graduate students (students with temporary visas) in U.S. science and engineering programs. Between 2003 and 2004, enrollment of these students dropped 7 percent; since 2001, enrollment has dropped 20 percent (table 1). First-time, full-time S&E graduate enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents declined 1 percent between 2003 and 2004, the first such drop since 2000, when collection of these data began.

TABLE 1.  S&E graduate enrollment by citizenship, enrollment status, sex, and race/ethnicity, and S&E postdocs by citizenship: 1994–2004.

  Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

The number of postdoctoral appointees (postdocs) in S&E fields who hold temporary visas (foreign postdocs) also dropped between 2003 and 2004. Although the number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident postdocs increased slightly from 2003 to 2004, the increase was not enough to offset the drop in foreign postdocs, resulting in an overall decline of 2 percent in S&E postdocs at U.S. educational institutions, the first substantial decline since 1978.

S&E Graduate-Student Enrollment

S&E graduate enrollment increased overall in 2004, but the slight increase (less than 0.5 percent) resulted entirely from a rise in enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The number and proportion of foreign graduate students enrolled in U.S. academic institutions increased each year from 1997 to 2002 (table 1). In 2003, although total enrollment of these students rose, as a proportion of all S&E graduate students temporary-visa holders declined from 32 to 31 percent. In 2004 declines occurred in both number (3 percent) and proportion (dropping from 31 to 30 percent).

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. Enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents in 2004 was the highest it has been since 1993, its peak year, but the gain in numbers in 2004 was much smaller than it was in either of the preceding 2 years.

Enrollment Status

Enrollment status refers to whether a student is enrolled full or part time. Full-time S&E enrollment exceeded 340,600 in 2004—a gain of less than 1 percent from 2003. Full-time students constituted 72 percent of all S&E graduate students in 2004, compared with 68 percent in 1994. Part-time enrollment grew by less than 0.05 percent between 2003 and 2004, reflecting the long-term trend for an increasing proportion of full-time enrollment.

Students with temporary visas were more likely to be enrolled full time in a graduate S&E program than were U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Eighty-five percent of foreign students were enrolled full time in 2004 (essentially the same as in 2003), compared with 65 percent of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. But for the first time in the past decade, full-time enrollment of students with temporary visas dropped, by 3 percent, whereas full-time enrollment of students who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents rose by about 3 percent. This combination of a decline in foreign students and an increase in U.S. citizen and permanent resident students also occurred in part-time graduate enrollments, although the increase was slight for U.S. citizens and permanent residents (less than 1 percent).

Field of Study

Total graduate enrollment in 2004 grew in all major S&E fields with the exception of computer sciences and engineering (table 2). Computer sciences dropped by 6 percent, continuing the decline that started in 2003. Engineering enrollment dropped by 3 percent from 2003, the first decrease in that field since 1998. All but two engineering subfields (aerospace and biomedical engineering) experienced declines in enrollment; the largest occurring in electrical engineering, with a 7 percent decrease. Of the fields of study with the largest graduate enrollments (10,000 or more), growth was greatest in political science and physics, each with 6 percent gains. Following were chemistry and psychology, each with 4 percent gains.

TABLE 2.  S&E graduate enrollment, by field: 1994–2004.

  Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

First-time, full-time enrollment of students with temporary visas dropped from 2003 across all major S&E fields. Earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences had the greatest percentage decline but engineering lost the greatest number of students and accounted for 64 percent of the overall decline (table 3). Computer sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences had the next highest losses in numbers of first-time, full-time foreign students enrolled.

TABLE 3.  First-time, full-time S&E graduate enrollment and percentage change, by field and citizenship: 2000–04.

  Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the greatest percentage drops and decreases in number of first-time, full-time enrollments occurred in the fields of agricultural sciences, computer sciences, and engineering. The greatest increases were in mathematical sciences and psychology.

Trends in first-time, full-time S&E enrollment also varied by field (table 3, figure 1). The decline since 2001 in first-time, full-time enrollment of temporary-visa holders resulted mainly from declines in engineering and computer sciences enrollments. The proportion of foreign students among first-time, full-time students in these two fields dropped from 60–70 percent in 2000 to about 50 percent in 2004. Foreign-student graduate enrollment in other S&E fields, exemplified by the biological sciences, was relatively stable. Social sciences, engineering, and psychology contributed most to the overall increase since 2000 in first-time, full-time enrollments of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

FIGURE 1.  First-time, full-time graduate S&E enrollment, by citizenship and selected fields: 2000–04.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

Demographics

The proportion of women among all S&E graduate students grew from 37 percent in 1994 to 42 percent in 2003 and remained at that level in 2004 (table 1). Enrollment of female students has increased every year for the last 20 years, including a 2 percent increase in 2004. In contrast, after reaching a peak of about 279,200 in 1993, enrollment of men declined every year from 1994 to 1998. The number of male graduate students in S&E fields decreased by less than 1 percent between 2003 and 2004.

Enrollment of foreign men dropped 4 percent from 2003, accounting for the small overall drop in enrollment of male S&E graduate students in 2004. Foreign men also accounted for the majority of the decrease in the number of first-time, full-time foreign students enrolled. First-time, full-time enrollment of female foreign students, however, had the greater percentage drop (table 4).

TABLE 4.  S&E graduate students and postdocs with temporary visas, by enrollment status and sex: 2000–04.

  Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

The proportion of women among U.S. citizen and permanent resident S&E graduate students increased to 47 percent in 2004. Enrollment of female U.S. citizens and permanent residents increased by 2 percent in 2004, whereas enrollment of foreign women declined slightly, the first such decline in the past decade. Enrollment of male U.S. citizens and permanent residents increased by 1 percent in 2004 but was still considerably 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 1). In both 2003 and 2004, white, non-Hispanic students accounted for 68 percent of all U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in S&E graduate programs, down from 78 percent in 1994. Asian/Pacific Islanders were the second largest racial/ethnic group among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, accounting for 9 percent of enrollment in S&E graduate programs in 2004. Blacks accounted for 7.4 percent of all U.S. citizens and permanent residents, followed by Hispanics (6.7 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Natives (less than 1 percent). Changes from 2003 to 2004 in S&E graduate enrollment for minority students ranged from a 5.4 percent increase for Hispanics to a 1.3 percent decrease for Asians/Pacific Islanders. Underrepresented minority enrollment (black, non-Hispanic; Hispanic; American Indian/Alaska Native) has grown every year since 1994 by approximately 5 percent and in 2004 accounted for 15 percent of the U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled.

Postdoctoral Appointees

Almost 33,000 people held S&E postdoctoral positions in U.S. academic institutions in 2004, a slight drop from 2003 (table 1). Although the number of postdocs who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents increased by 1 percent over 2003, postdocs with temporary visas decreased 3 percent, for a net decrease of 2 percent. Male temporary-visa holders accounted for most of the overall drop in numbers of postdocs (table 4). Even though the decline in numbers of men with temporary visas was larger than that for women, the percentage decrease for women was slightly larger than for men (4 percent compared with 3 percent). Both of these declines were off record 2003 highs.

The decrease in foreign S&E postdocs is the first since 1977, when the practice of reporting foreign postdocs separately started. Even with the 3 percent decrease in 2004, the number of foreign postdocs has increased by 45 percent during the past 10 years. In contrast, the number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident postdocs grew by 9 percent in the same period.

Data Notes

This publication provides the first release of data from the fall 2004 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. Data were collected from approximately 12,240 departments at 589 institutions of higher education in the United States and outlying areas. The department response rate was 98 percent; however, 12 percent of the reporting departments required partial imputation of missing data.

The full set of detailed tables from this survey will be available in the report Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 2004, at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/gradpostdoc/. Individual detailed tables from the 2004 survey may be available in advance of the full report. For further information, contact

Julia Oliver
Human Resources Statistics Program
Division of Science Resources Statistics
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965
Arlington, VA 22230
703-292-7809
joliver@nsf.gov

 

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
First-time S&E Graduate Enrollment of Foreign Students Drops for the Third Straight Year
Arlington, VA (NSF 06-321) [July 2006]


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