Chapter Overview

This chapter focuses on the development of human capital in S&E through higher education. Postsecondary education provides the advanced skills needed for an educated citizenry, a competitive workforce, and—in the case of graduate-level S&E education—the research capability necessary for innovation.

Indicators presented in this chapter are discussed in the context of national and global developments, including changing demographics, increasing international student mobility, and increasing global competition in higher education. The composition of the U.S. college-age population is becoming more diverse as the Asian and Hispanic shares of the population increase. During the latest economic downturn, public institutions of higher education faced unique pressures from a combination of increasing enrollments and tight state budgets. Private institutions likewise experienced financial challenges stemming from declining incomes and the effects of stock market fluctuations on endowment growth. Technology has enabled rapid growth in the delivery of online courses; the consequences of these changes are not well understood.

Over the past decade and a half, governments around the globe have increasingly regarded higher education as an essential national resource. Although the United States has historically been a world leader in providing broad access to higher education and in attracting international students, many other countries are providing expanded educational access to their own populations and are attracting growing numbers of international students. Nevertheless, in recent years, increases in international students contributed to most of the growth in overall S&E graduate enrollment in the United States. After a decline in the number of international students coming to the United States after 11 September 2001, international student enrollment in S&E had recovered, but in the last year their numbers have dropped once again.

Chapter Organization

This chapter begins with an overview of the characteristics of U.S. higher education institutions that provide instruction in S&E, followed by a discussion of characteristics of U.S. undergraduate and graduate education. Trends are discussed by field and demographic group, with attention to the flow of international students into the United States by country of origin. Various international higher education indicators include comparative S&E degree production in several world regions and measures of the growing dependence of industrialized countries on international S&E students.

The chapter draws on a variety of federal and nonfederal sources, primarily surveys conducted by the National Center for Science and Engineering (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation (NSF) and by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the Department of Education. International data come from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics (UIS); and individual country sources. Most of the data in this chapter are from censuses of the relevant population—for example, all students receiving degrees from U.S. academic institutions—and are not subject to sampling variability.