A Decline in Doctorates
The number of research doctorates awarded by American universities in 2010 fell for the first time since 2002, according to data published last month by the National Science Foundation. The drop was driven in large part by a decision to reclassify numerous categories of education doctorates as pre-professional rather than research doctorates, but the number of science and engineering doctorates awarded dipped slightly, too.
The NSF data are a first glance at the 2010 cohort of the annual Survey of Earned Doctorates, an annual survey sponsored by the science foundation and five other federal agencies and conducted by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. The survey provides data on who the doctorate recipients are and the fields they are in, among other information.
Over all, the number of research doctorates granted by academic institutions in the United States in 2010 fell to 48,069 from 49,554 in 2009, down nearly 3.0 percent. But the vast majority of that apparent decline is attributable, the NSF explains, to a decision by the sponsors of the Survey of Earned Doctorates to begin treating dozens of education doctorates as pre-professional degrees and doctorates (such as the M.D., J.D., Psy.D., etc.) rather than as research doctorates.
The NSF defines research doctorates as those granted by programs that are "oriented toward preparing students to make original contributions to knowledge in a field" that "typically require the completion of a dissertation or equivalent project." (As seen in the table below, many education doctorates remain classified as research doctorates; more than 5,000 were awarded and counted under the new classification.) Exactly how many education doctorate recipients were excluded in this year's survey isn't clear, but of the drop of nearly 1,500 research doctorates identified by NSF from 2009 to 2010, about 1,200 were in education.
The anomaly of education doctorates aside, the number of research doctorates awarded still fell by several hundred in 2010, as seen in the table below. A drop of 325 in science and engineering fields was driven by a continuing decline (this year, of more than 15 percent) in the number of agriculture doctorates awarded and smaller dips in molecular biology, neurosciences, chemistry, psychology, aerospace and civil engineering.
Other science and engineering fields saw increases, including mathematics, computer sciences, electrical and materials science engineering, and the category known as "other biological sciences."
In non-science disciplines, the NSF-defined categories of "humanities" and "letters" both reported small increases.
Doctorates Awarded, by Field of Study
|Science and engineering||25,966||27,984||33,466||33,141|
|Other biological sciences||3,876||4,259||5,421||5,533|
Earth, atmospheric, and
|Physics and astronomy||1,389||1,517||1,892||1,895|
|Materials science engineering||404||493||625||670|
|Non-science and engineering||15,406||15,398||16,088||14,928|
|Foreign languages and literature||642||607||598||603|
|Other non-science and engineering fields||2,160||2,437||2,803||2,763|
|Fields not elsewhere classified||697||779||772||760|
The Survey of Earned Doctorates also provides data on demographics of doctorate earners. The number of doctorates awarded fell both for men (1.3 percent) and women (0.4 percent), while the proportion of all doctorates awarded to women continued to edge up slightly (to 40.9 percent, continuing a steady rise since 2005, when that figure was 37.7 percent).
2010 marked the second consecutive year in which the proportion of research doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders declined, and rather sharply. The number of U.S. citizens or permanent residents earning research doctorates grew to 31,573, or 65.7 percent of the total, up from 65.2 in 2009.
The proportion of science and engineering doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders continued to decline, dipping to 34.1 percent in 2010 from 36.5 in 2005.
Of the U.S. citizens and permanent residents who received doctorates in 2010, the proportion who were members of minority groups edged up slightly, to 21.6 percent from 21.5 percent in 2009. But the proportion that went to African-Americans declined, to 5.7 percent in 2010 from 6.2 percent. While the reclassification of education doctorates almost certainly contributed to that decline, black scholars' share of science and engineering doctorates dipped, too, to 19.1 percent from 20.8 percent of the total awarded to minority recipients.
Doctorates Awarded, by Selected Traits
|All doctorate recipients||43,382||49,554||48,069|
|Science and engineering||27,984||33,466||33,141|
|U.S. citizen or permanent resident||16,045||19,715||19,983|
|All other race or ethnicity||3,497||4,583||4,739|
|American Indian or Alaska Native||67||75||76|
|Black or African American||707||951||903|
|Hispanic or Latino||805||1,100||1,155|
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific
|Two or more races||244||430||442|
|Temporary visa holders||10,426||12,211||11,302|
|Non-science and engineering||15,398||16,088||14,928|
|U.S. citizen or permanent resident||11,911||12,604||11,590|
|All other race or ethnicity||2,527||3,109||2,788|
|American Indian or Alaska Native||73||71||46|
|Black or African American||1,093||1,280||1,099|
|Hispanic or Latino||626||780||695|
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific
|Two or more races||155||226||228|
|Temporary visa holders||2,421||2,503||2,323|
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