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June 06, 2012
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a report detailing sizable growth in US science and engineering graduate programs. The data comes from an NSF survey of graduate students and postdoctorates in science and engineering.
As of fall 2010, roughly 632,700 graduate students enrolled in US health, engineering and science programs. That’s a 30 percent increase compared to the year 2000, when 493,000 students signed up for similar programs. The study showed an even larger increase in full-time graduate students enrolling in science, engineering and health programs for their first time. 118,500 students fell into this category in 2010 compared with 78,400 for the year 2000, representing a 50 percent jump.
Biomedical engineering has witnessed the most expansion. The NSF has recorded 165 percent growth over the past decade, including a seven percent increase just between 2009 and 2010. Absolute numbers are still fairly modest though. Even with the triple-digit increase, there were still only 8,500 students in the field as of 2010. Given the meteoric rise of the biotech industry, enrollment should be able to maintain, or even exceed this pace, over the next decade.
Computer science (CS) and electrical engineering (EE) gains were more modest. CS grad students increased 10 percent between 2000 and 2010, climbing to an enrollment of over 51,000. EE did somewhat better though, increasing 25 percent, to more than 41,000 students, over that same time period.
One of the more interesting trends is an increase in diversity. While male grad enrollment in science and engineering jumped 30 percent (from 243,057 thousand to 316,051) over the last decade, female enrollment surged 40 percent (from 170,479 to 240,481). While the male to female ratio has not reached equilibrium, the numbers show a closing gender gap.
The racial gap is narrowing as well. While the number of white students in science and engineering increased 25 percent over the last 10 years, enrollment by Blacks, Asians, American Indians, and multi-race individuals showed much larger gains (50, 35, 55, and 1,035 percent, respectively). In absolute numbers though, whites still dominate the grad population by more than a two-to-one margin - 255,256 for whites compared to 106,538 for non-whites.
Given recent global economic woes, and by contrast, the generally the bullish outlook for the tech industry, it’s not surprising to see an increase of student enrollments in science and engineering. The changing job market and issues relating to global resource sustainability appear to be driving career choices for many students. Data provided from the NSF survey further validates these decisions.
The complete NSF report is available here.
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