In Graduate Schools, Boost for Minorities

New Council of Graduate Schools report on enrollment trends finds increases for members of minority groups, women and international students.
November 30, 2007

The percentage of graduate students who are members of minority groups continues to increase, according to an annual survey of graduate schools released on Thursday.

The Survey of Graduate Enrollment, conducted jointly by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board, found that while graduate enrollments increased by 2 percent this year, most of that growth came from upturns in the number of minorities, women and students from overseas pursuing master's and doctoral degrees. The trendlines for white students, males and U.S. citizens or permanent residents, meanwhile, remained flat.

Kenneth E. Redd, the director of research and policy analysis at the council, said he attributed the boost in international enrollment (documented in another recent CGS report) to efforts by Congress and the State Department to ease the process of entering the United States on a student visa. The U.S. "is still seen as the premier place in the world to study, particularly for students from India and China, which are our two largest sending countries," he said.

About 28 percent of graduate students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents at the institutions surveyed in 2006 were members of minority groups, compared with 26 percent the year before. That includes both underrepresented minorities -- defined as Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics -- as well as Asian or Pacific Islander students who are disproportionately represented at the graduate level. Over the past 10 years, minority growth has been especially concerted for African Americans (from 8 to 13 percent of the total grad student population) and Hispanic students (from 5 to 8 percent of the total). The latter group grew the fastest, at an average of 5 percent a year.

The biggest percentage jump in enrollment came from the group with the fewest students: Native Americans saw a 9 percent increase, despite remaining at about 1 percent of the overall graduate student population. They also saw double-digit growth in the specific fields of physical sciences, engineering and biological sciences. The following tables outline the current enrollment figures for minority groups, as well as their growth over the years:

U.S. Graduate Enrollment by Racial/Ethnic Group, Fall 2006

Ethnic Group Total   Men   Women  
Total U.S. Citizens + Permanent Residents 1,227,352 100% 460,495 100% 755,716 100%
Native American/Alaska Native 9,197 1% 3,184 1% 5,886 1%
African American 155,230 13% 42,931 13% 111,829 15%
Asian/Pacific Islander 75,820 6% 34,397 6% 41,011 5%
Hispanic/Latino 96,570 8% 34,827 8% 61,127 8%
White, non-Hispanic 890,535 72% 345,156 73% 535,863 71%

Percentage of U.S. Graduate Enrollment by Racial/Ethnic Group, 1996-2006

Ethnic Group 1996 2006
Native American/Alaska Native 1% 1%
African American 8% 13%
Asian/Pacific Islander 5% 6%
Hispanic/Latino 5% 8%
White, non-Hispanic 81% 72%
All Underrepresented Minorities 14% 22%

Redd, while underscoring the progress for members of minority groups, sounded a note of caution about the remaining gaps in graduate education. While making up a nearly proportional 13 percent of students that are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, for example, African Americans still are only 8 percent of those studying sciences and engineering. For most members of minority groups, the most popular field remains education.

"By no means does this mean that we should let our foot up off the pedal," said Ansley A. Abraham Jr., director of the Doctoral Scholars Program of the Southern Regional Education Board. He partially attributed the continuing minority gains in enrollment to recruitment efforts like his own group's. "We’re encouraging more students to get their Ph.D.s ... and they’re going on to graduate school." (A recent National Science Foundation report found an increasing number of minorities earning doctorates.)

The graduate school council's report covers 680 institutions that responded to its survey. They represent some 38 percent of those offering graduate degrees, covering 74 percent of all U.S. graduate students and almost 90 percent of doctoral students.

It found accelerating growth in the number of graduate students in health sciences, which, with a 7 percent boost last year, is the fastest-growing field. Among doctorates (the number of which rose 5 percent in 2006), the fastest-growing fields are health sciences, business and engineering, all with double-digit enrollment increases.

The following tables chart the average yearly change in enrollment by various groupings:

Trends in Graduate Enrollment (% Change), 1996-2006

  2005-2006 2001-2006 Average Annual 1996-2006 Average Annual
Total 2% 2% 2%
By Gender      
Men 0% 2% 1%
Women 2% 3% 2%
Attendance Status      
Full-Time 1% 3% 3%
Part-Time 2% 1% 1%
By Citizenship Status      
U.S. Citizens & Permanent Residents 0% 2% 1%
Non-U.S. Citizens & Temporary Residents 2% 1% 4%

Trends in Graduate Enrollment (% Change) by Major Field of Study, 1996-2006

Major Field 2005 to 2006 Average Annual Change,
Average Annual Change,
Biological Sciences (+ Agriculture) 2% 3% 1%
Business 3% 1% 1%
Education 1% 2% 1%
Engineering 0% 2% 1%
Health Sciences 7% 5% 3%
Humanities & Arts 2% 2% 0%
Physical Sciences 0% 1% 2%
Public Administration & Services 1% 2% 1%
Social Sciences 1% 2% 1%
Other Fields 1% 1% 2%

All charts are from the Council of Graduate Schools report "Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 1996-2006."

The report also highlighted other findings:

  • Female students now make up 59 percent of graduate students and 65 percent of those at master's-level institutions.
  • The number of international students enrolling in graduate school for the first time increased by 10 percent, compared with 1 percent over all, and a 1 percent decline in first-time enrollment among American students (or permanent residents). International students made up 16 percent of total graduate enrollment.
  • Full-time graduate students represented a majority over part timers only in the largest doctoral institutions.
  • Continuing a well-known trend, 55 percent of business school students were male, while 74 percent of those studying education were female.
  • Sixteen percent of graduate students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents studied science or engineering, compared with 53 percent of international students.

The report is available for download at the Council of Graduate Schools Web site.


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