text-only page produced automatically by LIFT Text TranscoderSkip all navigation and go to page content Skip top navigation and go to directorate navigation Skip top navigation and go to page navigation
National Science Foundation
InfoBriefs
Related Information
Detailed Statistical Tables
123
Survey
   bullet Graduate Students and Postdocs in S&E
123
Past publications
National Center for Science and
  Engineering Statistics (NCSES)
NCSES Home
About NCSES
Topics: A to Z
View Staff Directory
Contact NCSES
Search NCSES

Two Decades of Increasing Diversity More than Doubled the Number of Minority Graduate Students in Science and Engineering

NSF 11-319 | July 2011 | PDF format. PDF  
Bookmark and Share

by Peter Einaudi[1]

From 1989 through 2009 the number of minority U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in graduate science and engineering (S&E) programs more than doubled, growing from approximately 37,700 in 1989 to 92,700 in 2009. Increases in Hispanic, black, and Asian/Pacific Islander S&E graduate students were similar over this period (approximately 17,800, 18,200, and 17,200, respectively); however, these gains almost tripled the number of Hispanic graduate students (approximately 190% growth) and more than doubled the number of blacks (approximately 155% growth) and Asians/Pacific Islanders (approximately 110% growth). Enrollment among American Indians/Alaska Natives also nearly tripled, increasing from approximately 900 in 1989 to approximately 2,600 in 2009 (approximately 195% growth). Minority enrollment among U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in graduate S&E programs grew from approximately 13% in 1989 to approximately 24% in 2009 (figure 1). Due to extra variability of the methodological changes in the 2007 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS), all growth rate calculations comparing pre- and post-2007 counts are rounded to the nearest 5% and counts are rounded to the nearest 100; see "Data Limitations and Availability" for more information.

FIGURE 1. Graduate enrollment among U.S. citizens and permanent residents in science and engineering fields, by minority and other/unknown race/ethnicity: 1989–2009.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

Despite these substantial gains, black and Hispanic U.S. citizens and permanent residents remain underrepresented within the S&E graduate student population when compared with the adult U.S. citizen population. In 2009, 7.8% of the U.S. citizens and permanent residents pursuing graduate S&E degrees were black and 7.1% were Hispanic. In 2009, 13.8% of U.S. citizens 21 to 45 years of age were black and 11.9% were Hispanic. In contrast, the percentage of American Indians/Alaska Natives in the 2009 S&E graduate student population was very similar to that of the adult U.S. citizen population (0.7% vs. 0.8%), and the percentage of Asians/Pacific Islanders pursuing S&E graduate degrees was more than twice that of the U.S. citizen population aged 21 to 45 years (8.6% vs. 3.8%).

These and other findings in this InfoBrief are from the fall 2009 GSS, cosponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The GSS is an annual survey of all academic institutions in the U.S. that grant research-based master's degrees or doctorates in science, engineering, or selected health (SEH) fields. The GSS collects data on the number and characteristics of graduate students, postdoctoral appointees (postdocs), and other doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers in SEH fields.

Graduate Student Enrollment in S&E

In S&E fields, total graduate student enrollment (full-time and part-time) reached 545,685 in 2009, an increase of 3.1% from 2008 to 2009 (table 1). Graduate enrollment in engineering fields grew faster than in science fields for the fourth straight year (4.9% vs. 2.4% in 2009) and increased by approximately 40% over the past decade, as compared to approximately 30% for science fields. Although there was noted growth in S&E enrollment, assessing the overall trend in the selected health fields was not possible due to changes in the reporting of certain health fields. In particular, the 21.0% drop in the number of graduate students reported in "other health" fields in 2009 was primarily due to the exclusion of students in ineligible degree programs who had been included in prior years. Because these "other health" fields included ineligible students in prior years, the 2009 counts are not comparable to the 2008 and prior counts. Graduate enrollment within clinical health fields was fairly stable from 2008 to 2009 (0.8% growth) but had increased by approximately 45% over the prior 10 years.

TABLE 1. Graduate enrollment in science, engineering, and health fields, by field: 2000–09.

  Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

The remainder of this InfoBrief focuses on the 2009 GSS data reported within S&E fields. Further analysis of GSS data on graduate enrollment in selected health fields can be obtained from NIH.[2]

Field of Study

From 2008 to 2009 the fastest growing graduate S&E fields were civil engineering, mechanical engineering, economics, biomedical engineering, political science, aerospace engineering, and agricultural sciences.[3] Of these fields, civil engineering experienced the fastest annual growth at 10.1%, but all grew by more than 7.0%. Over the 10-year span from 2000 to 2009, biomedical engineering easily outpaced all other S&E fields, increasing by approximately 145%.

Four fields declined from 2008 to 2009: psychology, sociology, history and philosophy of science, and sociology/anthropology; however, only for the combined field of sociology/anthropology did the data constitute a substantive downward trend. For sociology (as a single field) and history and philosophy of science, the declines were modest in number and were the first declines in several years; the 10-year trends for both fields showed increasing enrollment. As with the "other health" fields, much of the decline seen over the past 2 years in psychology was from the exclusion of graduate students in ineligible practitioner-oriented programs rather than declining enrollment within eligible research-oriented programs.

Enrollment Status

The S&E graduate students in 2009 were enrolled mostly as full-time students with only 27.0% enrolled part time (table 2).[4] Although there were more part-time S&E graduate students in 2009 than ever before, the proportion of part-time S&E graduate student enrollment has been in decline since 1985, and it dropped again in 2009 as growth in full-time enrollment outpaced that of part-time enrollment (3.9% to 1.0%). In contrast to part-time enrollment, first-time, full-time enrollment in S&E fields continued to rise in 2009, marking the fifth year in a row that the number of first-time, full-time graduate students hit a record high. In 2009 a total of 115,755 students started full-time graduate study in S&E programs, up 6.4% from 2008. First-time, full-time students accounted for 29.0% of all full-time graduate students in S&E and for 21.2% of all graduate students in S&E. Both are the highest proportions for first-time, full-time students since the mid-1980s.

TABLE 2. Graduate enrollment in science, engineering, and health fields, by enrollment status, sex, citizenship, and race/ethnicity: 2000–09.

  Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

Sex and Citizenship

Of the 115,755 first-time, full-time graduate students in S&E fields, 56.5% were men, contributing to a second straight year where men's overall enrollment in S&E fields grew faster than women's. In 2009 men's enrollment in S&E fields grew by 3.6% and women's enrollment grew by 2.5%. Given the relative stability from 2006 through 2009 of the proportion of S&E graduate students who were women, it seems that the long-standing trend toward greater gender parity among graduate students in S&E fields has been interrupted. From 1977 (the first year the GSS surveyed both master's- and doctorate-level academic institutions) through 2007, the proportion of S&E graduate students who were women increased every year and grew from 25.0% to 43.5%.

On the other hand, among the S&E graduate students with temporary visas, the gap between enrollment of women and men continued to narrow (women's enrollment increased by 3.4% vs. 1.9% for men from 2008 to 2009). However, temporary visa holders were much more likely than U.S. citizens and permanent residents to be men (65.7% vs. 52.5% in 2009). Temporary visa holders also remained much more likely than U.S. citizens or permanent residents to be enrolled full time (86.9% vs. 67.1% in 2009).

Despite a substantial change in the number of S&E graduate students holding temporary visas over the past 10 years, their proportion among all S&E graduate students has been relatively stable. From 2000 to 2009 approximately 3 out of every 10 graduate students in S&E were temporary visas holders. The percentage of S&E graduate students holding temporary visas was approximately 30% in 2000 and 2009, with a high of approximately 32% in 2002. The 2002 mark was the highest ever recorded in the GSS and reflected an increase of 8.7% over the 23.3% reported in 1995. Graduate enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents grew at a slightly faster rate than that of foreign students on temporary visas from 2008 to 2009 (3.4% vs. 2.4%), marking the first time this has happened since foreign enrollment rebounded in 2005.

Race and Ethnicity

From 1989 to 2009 the number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents from minority racial/ethnic groups enrolled in S&E graduate programs more than doubled, whereas the number of non-Hispanic white U.S. citizen or permanent resident graduate students increased by less than 10%. As a result, the racial/ethnic makeup of U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in S&E graduate programs (U.S. S&E graduate students) has become increasingly diverse (figure 1).

The growth in the number of Hispanic, black, and American Indian/Alaska Native S&E graduate students from 1989 to 2009 has been remarkably consistent, with increases every year for blacks, in 19 of 20 years for Hispanics, and in 17 of 20 years for American Indians/Alaskan Natives. As a result of two decades of growth, the number of graduate students who were Hispanic U.S. citizens or permanent residents nearly tripled, growing by approximately 190% (from approximately 9,400 in 1989 to approximately 27,300 in 2009). S&E graduate enrollment among black U.S. citizens or permanent residents grew by approximately 155% (from approximately 11,800 to approximately 30,000) over this period, and American Indian/Alaska Native S&E graduate enrollment grew by approximately 195% (from approximately 900 to approximately 2,500).

S&E graduate enrollment among Asian/Pacific Islander U.S. citizens or permanent residents rose by approximately 110% over this period (from approximately 15,700 in 1989 to approximately 32,900 in 2009), but this growth was not as uniform as that among the other racial/ethnic minorities. In proportional terms, Hispanics increased from approximately 3% of all U.S. S&E graduate students in 1989 to approximately 7% in 2009, blacks increased from approximately 4% to approximately 8%, and American Indians/Alaskan Natives increased from less than 1% to approximately 1%. In contrast, the proportion of Asians/Pacific Islanders varied over time: it grew from approximately 6% in 1989 to approximately 9% in 1999, dropped below this level briefly in 2000 and 2001, peaked at approximately 10% in 2003, and then declined to approximately 9% in 2008 and 2009.

U.S. S&E graduate students of other or unknown race/ethnicity also grew substantially from 1989 to 2009, with the majority of this growth occurring over the past decade. In 1989 there were approximately 17,200 graduate students reported as "Other or unknown" race, approximately 18,600 in 1999, and approximately 39,200 in 2009. Since 2000 the "Other or unknown" race category has consisted of two collected categories: "More than one race (non-Hispanic/Latino)" and "Ethnicity/race unknown or not stated." In 2000 there were approximately 400 non-Hispanic graduate students with more than one race and approximately 20,000 graduate students with unknown or not stated race/ethnicity. In 2009 these figures were approximately 2,300 and 36,900. Since 2000 the "More than one race" category has grown much faster (approximately 425%) than the "Ethnicity/race unknown or not stated" category (approximately 85%); however, the vast majority of the S&E graduate students in the combined "Other or unknown" race category were those having unknown or not stated race/ethnicity.

First-Time, Full-Time Enrollment, by Citizenship and Field

In stark contrast to the substantial growth from 2008 to 2009 among U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolling in full-time S&E programs for the first time (10.6%), the number of first-time, full-time graduate students with temporary visas declined (-0.7%) (table 3). This was the first decline in foreign first-time, full-time S&E enrollment since 2004. The year 2009 was the second year in a row that first-time, full-time enrollment in engineering grew faster among U.S. citizens and permanent residents (16.8%) than among foreign students with temporary visas (-1.9%). Similar numbers of temporary visa holders enrolled in science fields for the first time in 2008 and 2009, but these students were distributed differently, with more entering the social and agricultural sciences in 2009 and fewer entering psychology and the computer, biological, and physical sciences.

TABLE 3. First-time, full-time graduate enrollment in science, engineering, and health fields, by field and citizenship: 2005–09.

  Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

Postdoctoral Appointees in S&E

The GSS also collects information about postdocs who work at U.S. academic institutions (and their affiliates, such as research centers and hospitals) granting research-based master's or doctoral degrees in SEH fields. In total, 57,805 postdocs were reported in 2009, a 6.7% increase over 2008 (table 4). Over 70% of the postdocs were in S&E fields.

TABLE 4. Postdoctoral appointees in science, engineering, and health fields, by sex, citizenship, and field: 2000–09.

  Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

Field of Appointment

Although most S&E postdocs work in science fields (84.3% in 2009), the proportion has declined each year since 2001 (when it was 89.6%), reflecting increasing numbers of postdocs working in engineering fields. From 2000 to 2009 the growth of engineering postdocs (approximately 95%) substantially outpaced that of science postdocs (approximately 30%). Single-year growth rates for engineering postdocs were 10.5% in 2008 and 17.5% in 2009.

Within each engineering field, postdoc employment grew substantially from 2000 to 2009. Mimicking the trend seen among graduate students, biomedical engineering was by far the fastest growing postdoc field over the past decade, increasing by approximately 335% from 2000 to 2009. The fastest growing science fields for postdocs from 2000 to 2009 were mathematical sciences (approximately 90% growth), computer sciences (approximately 75% growth), and psychology (approximately 65% growth).

Demographic Characteristics

In 2009, 65.3% of postdocs in S&E were men and 55.5% were temporary U.S. visa holders. The gap in the gender composition of S&E postdocs narrowed slightly from 2008 to 2009 as women's appointments grew at a slightly faster rate than men's (8.2% vs. 6.1%). The percentage of S&E postdocs who were women increased from 34.2% in 2008 to 34.7% in 2009. Over the past decade, the number of female postdocs increased by approximately 60%.

For the third straight year, growth in appointments of U.S. citizens and permanent residents outpaced that for temporary visa holders, increasing by 11.7% from 2008 to 2009 as compared with 3.2% for temporary visa holders. As a result, the percentage of postdocs who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents (44.5%) rose to the highest level since 1998, when it was 46.5%.

As seen in figure 2, the proportion of postdocs with temporary visas is correlated to the proportion of graduate students with temporary visas, although a higher percentage of postdocs than graduate students hold temporary visas. The percentage of foreign graduate students declined each year from 2002 to 2005, but an increasing enrollment of foreign graduate students since 2005 may suggest that the decreases seen in the percentage of foreign postdocs could level off and begin to rise over the next few years.

FIGURE 2. Graduate students and postdoctoral appointees in science and engineering fields with temporary visas: 1989–2009.

  Figure 2 Source Data: Excel file

Survey Information

During the production of this InfoBrief the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 was signed into law. Section 505 of the bill renames the Division of Science Resources Statistics as the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). The Center retains its reporting line to the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences within the National Science Foundation. The new name signals the central role of NCSES in the collection, interpretation, analysis, and dissemination of objective data on the science and engineering enterprise.

Conducted since 1966, the GSS is an annual survey of all academic institutions in the U.S. granting research-based master's or doctoral degrees in SEH fields. The 2009 GSS collected data from 13,285 organizational units (departments, programs, affiliated research centers, and health care facilities) at 575 institutions of higher education and their affiliates in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The institutional response rate was 99.3%. An overview of the survey objectives and design can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/srvygradpostdoc/.

Data Limitations and Availability

This publication provides the first release of data from the fall 2009 cycle of the GSS. The full set of detailed statistical tables from this survey will be available in the forthcoming report Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 2009 at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/gradpostdoc/.[5] Individual detailed tables may be available upon request in advance of the full report by contacting Kelly Kang (kkang@nsf.gov, 703-292-7796).

The GSS data from 1972 through 2009 are available in public-use format on the NSF website (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/srvygradpostdoc/pub_data.cfm) and from the WebCASPAR data system (http://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/webcaspar/).

Due to methodological changes in 2007, the data collected from 2007 through 2009 are not strictly comparable to those collected prior to 2007. As a result, care should be used when assessing trends within the GSS data. In this InfoBrief, the "2007new" column reports the data as collected in 2007 and the "2007old" column provides data as they would have been collected in 2006. Ten-year trends reported in the tables are labeled "% change 2000–09." Note that these percentages are rounded to the nearest 5% to reflect the extra variability in the estimate because of the methodological change that occurred in 2007. To help readers understand trends in light of the change in 2007, two additional columns are included in the tables. The "percentage change 2000–07" reflects the growth from 2000 to 2007old and the "percentage change 2007–09" reflects the growth seen from 2007new to 2009. Please see appendix A, "Technical Notes," in Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 2007 (NSF 10-307) for a more detailed discussion of these changes.

Estimates for the adult U.S. citizen and permanent resident population are based on the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau (http://usa.ipums.org/usa/sda/).

Age was limited to 21–45 in order to better estimate the graduate student population.

The GSS collects data on graduate students, postdocs, and other doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers in research-oriented science, engineering, and health fields. Practitioner-oriented degrees within these fields (e.g., master's degrees in nursing and physical therapy) are not eligible for the GSS. Although these degrees have never been eligible in GSS, many respondents were not aware of this. After these exclusions were made more explicit in 2007, fewer graduate students in practitioner-oriented degree programs have been reported in the past three survey cycles. The large drop from 2008 to 2009 within the "other health" fields resulted from an increased effort to eliminate ineligible students from the GSS. The majority of excluded degrees are located within these "other health" fields. The GSS Field Code List provides a complete list of eligible and ineligible fields (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf10307/pdf/Complete_GSS_Code_List.pdf).

Notes

[1]  Peter Einaudi, research analyst, RTI International, 3040 Cornwallis Road, P.O. Box 12194, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-2194.

[2]  The GSS collects data on health fields selected by NIH. These fields make up about one-third of all health fields in the U.S. Department of Education Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) taxonomy. The majority of excluded degrees are in practitioner-oriented fields that do not meet the research-based criteria for GSS eligibility. NIH information on trends seen within selected health fields can be found at http://www.report.nih.gov/nihdatabook/Default.aspx?catid=19.

[3]  The five fields (communication, family and consumer sciences/human sciences, multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary, architecture, neuroscience) first reported in 2007 also grew quickly; however, these trends should be treated with caution given the lack of comparable data. High growth rates may also be due to increasing awareness of these fields' eligibility and therefore increased reporting of these fields, rather than growth within the field.

[4]  Full-time enrollment is defined according to the institution's policies and definition. First-time graduate students are those enrolled for graduate credit for the first time as of fall 2009 at the institution at which they are pursuing a degree.

[5]  For further information on the survey, please contact Kelly H. Kang, Human Resources Statistics Program, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (kkang@nsf.gov, 703-292-7796).


National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
Two Decades of Increasing Diversity More than Doubled the Number of Minority Graduate Students in Science and Engineering
Arlington, VA (NSF 11-319) [Jul 2011]


Back to previous page. Back to previous page


Print this page

Back to Top of page