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Useful Stats: Science & engineering graduate students and postdoctorates by state, 2016-2020

May 19, 2022
By: Colin Edwards

After declines in 2016 and 2017, the number of graduate students and postdoctoral appointees at the nation’s institutions of higher education increased nationally from 2018 to 2020, according to National Science Foundation (NSF) data from its Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS) survey. However, this SSTI analysis shows considerable variation among the states over the five-year period from 2016 to 2020. Evaluating long-term trends in S&E graduate students and postdocs can help policymakers and program designers identify potential issues, enabling the development of more effective policies and programs.

This edition of SSTI’s Useful Stats combines the latest five-years of data (2016 to 2020) from the NSF’s Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS) survey — an annual census of all U.S. academic institutions granting research-based master’s degrees or doctorates in science, engineering, and selected health fields as of the fall of the survey year — and provides an analysis of the number of graduate students and postdoctoral appointees at the state level. To get a more accurate picture of the annual variation in grad students and postdocs across all years in the period from 2016 to 2020, this examination looks at the average annual change by state, rather than examining total change, which only reflects the conditions from the beginning to the end of the period.

Nationally, the average annual change for the five-year period from 2016 to 2020 in graduate student enrollment and postdoctorate appointments at institutions of higher education increased by 0.4 percent. However, the interactive map below shows there was a lot of variation among the states. Shaded in dark gray, the states with the greatest average annual percent increases in graduate students and postdoctorates for the five-year period from 2016 to 2020 were Maine (16 percent), Virginia (12.9 percent), New Hampshire (10 percent), Maryland (9.3 percent), and Georgia (8.4 percent). Shaded in dark red, the states with the largest average annual percent decreases for the five-year period from 2016 to 2020 were New Jersey (-2.4 percent), Kansas (-2.7 percent), Oklahoma (-3.4 percent), Connecticut (-5 percent), and Alaska (-8 percent).

Examining the trends in the individual years over the five-year period also show considerable variation among the states. The interactive charts below provide the annual figures for graduate student and postdoctorates by state and by field (i.e., Science, Engineering, and Health). The graphic shows that graduate students and postdoctorates decreased nationally from 2016 and 2017, followed by steady increases from 2018 to 2020.

While many states were very similar to the national trend, other states had much different five-year trends. For example, Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Oklahoma followed the national pattern of decreases in 2016 and 2017, but the declines continued through to the end of the period. Others, like the District of Columbia, Delaware, Idaho, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island started the period with increases which lasted through the middle of the period but faded to slight decreases by 2020. Arkansas, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Wyoming had more ups-and-downs over the period.


Click here for the SSTI spreadsheets used in this story.

useful stats, higher ed