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Record number of doctoral degrees conferred in US in 2015, NSF

July 20, 2017

U.S. institutions of higher education awarded 55,006 research doctorate degrees in 2015 according to the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). This figure represents the highest number ever reported. The report also highlights several other multi-year trends including:

  • Science and engineering (S&E) degrees continued a 40-year trend of outpacing non-S&E degrees;
  • From 1975 to 2015, the number of S&E degrees more than doubled, with an average annual growth of 1.9 percent;
  • The proportion of S&E doctorates climbed from 58 percent in 1975 to 75 percent in 2015 due to nearly flat growth in the number of non-S&E degrees confirmed over the same time;
  • The number of S&E doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders grew to 14,037 in 2015, up 2 percent compared to the previous year and up 30 percent since 2005; and,
  • The number of S&E doctorates awarded in 2015 to U.S. citizens and permanent residents grew to 24,547 in 2015, up 3 percent from the previous year and 43 percent since 2005.

NSF found that the number of women receiving doctorates in science and engineering increased by 93 percent between 1995 and 2015. In total, nearly 45 percent of all doctoral degrees are earned by women.

The report, however, shows much slower progress for both African Americans and Hispanics. Between 2005 and 2015, the proportion of doctorates awarded to African Americans rose from 6.2 percent to 6.5 percent. Over the same period, the rate for Hispanics or Latinos grew from 5.1 percent to 7.0 percent.

While they tout U.S. system of doctoral education as among the world's best, the report’s authors warn that without continued investment and improvement, the U.S. doctoral education system's preeminence is not guaranteed. They contend that increasingly other nations are investing heavily in doctoral education because they recognize contributions of doctoral recipients to a nation’s economy and society.

stem, higher ed