- The number of science and engineering (S&E) degrees awarded continues to increase at all levels and across many fields. S&E degrees increased at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels from 2000 to 2019, both in numbers and as shares of total degrees.
- Underscoring their importance in preparing students for employment in the skilled technical workforce (STW), community colleges in 2019 produced more degrees and certificates in S&E technology fields, which have a more applied focus, than in S&E fields.
- Women earned almost two-thirds of the degrees awarded in psychology, biological sciences, and social sciences in 2019 but received only about a quarter of those in engineering and computer sciences. In other S&E fields, they earned almost half of the degrees awarded.
- Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives remain underrepresented among S&E degree recipients in almost all fields and degree levels relative to their representation in the general population.
- The total number of international students on visas enrolled at U.S. institutions of higher education declined by almost 23% from 2019 to 2020, largely reflecting the impact of COVID-19 on international student mobility. The decline was proportionately larger for undergraduates than for graduate students and was larger for students studying non-S&E fields than for those studying S&E fields. China continues to send the most students to U.S. institutions, with India second.
- Due to their significantly larger populations, China and India award more S&E first-university (bachelor’s equivalent) degrees than the United States. At the doctoral level, however, the United States awards the most S&E degrees, though China leads in production of doctoral degrees in the natural sciences and engineering.
- The COVID-19 pandemic affected the entire U.S. higher education system. Available evidence suggests that it has threatened the financial viability of some institutions and disrupted the higher education plans of many students, especially women and primary caregivers, underrepresented minorities, and students from low-income families. Community colleges have been the most severely affected by enrollment declines, with males experiencing the most significant declines.
The U.S. higher education system consists of diverse academic institutions that train students in S&E across degree levels and fields. The system includes research and doctorate-granting universities, primarily undergraduate institutions, minority-serving institutions, community colleges, and many other types of institutions, including some that span multiple categories.
A small number of institutions awarded three-quarters of doctorates, over half of master’s degrees, and nearly 45% of bachelor’s degrees in S&E fields in 2019. These institutions are also where most university research is performed; integration of academic S&E research and doctoral education is a key feature of the U.S. system.
More students are earning S&E degrees. In numbers and as a percentage of total degrees, S&E degrees increased at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels from 2000 to 2019. In addition, community colleges and other institutions train and certify students in S&E technology fields, contributing to the development of the STW as well as to the pool of talent that earns higher degrees. Skilled technical workers are individuals without a bachelor’s degree who work in jobs that typically require S&E knowledge.
Many groups of Americans remain underrepresented among S&E degree recipients. While women are at or approaching parity with men at most degree levels overall and earn more than half of degrees in some fields, long-standing differences persist, especially in engineering, computer sciences, and mathematics and statistics. Blacks are underrepresented at all degree levels, while Hispanics and American Indians or Alaska Natives are underrepresented at all but the associate’s level. A larger proportion of Blacks than Asians and Whites earn S&E degrees, especially doctorates, from for-profit institutions, which may have consequences for debt levels and career outcomes.
From 2019 to 2020, the number of international students on visas enrolled at U.S. institutions of higher education declined significantly. Despite this decline, there was little change in the distribution of students coming from different countries or studying different S&E fields. China continues to send the most undergraduate students, and China and India send the majority of graduate students.
From 2012 to 2019, the rapid increase and then decline of international S&E graduate student enrollment at U.S. institutions was driven by enrollment patterns of students from India in master’s programs in computer sciences and engineering. At the doctoral level, trends were more stable.
India and China, much larger countries than the United States in terms of overall population, produced more S&E first-university (bachelor’s equivalent) degrees than the United States. At the doctoral level, the United States awarded the largest number of S&E degrees of any nation. Comparisons of doctoral degree production between the United States and other nations should take into consideration that a substantial number of U.S. S&E doctorate recipients are students on temporary visas but also that many of these students stay in the United States after graduation. When comparing only natural sciences (see Glossary section for definition) and engineering doctoral degrees, China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest producer of doctoral degrees in 2007 and has remained so ever since.