Graduate Science Enrollment Rises, Bringing More Diversity

Jun 25, 2009 (03:06 PM EDT)

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More students than ever are pursuing graduate education in science and engineering (S&E) and those doing so represent a greater proportion of non-white ethnic groups and of women.

"Even more than the trend toward gender parity, increasing racial and ethnic diversity has represented the largest change in the demographic composition of S&E graduate students in the United States: white, non-Hispanic students accounted for 71% of all U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in 2000, as compared with 66% in 2007," a new National Science Foundation report says.

According to the National Science Foundation, enrollment in U.S. S&E programs increased by 3.3% in 2007, the largest annual growth rate since 2002 and almost twice the 1.7% growth rate in 2006.

The number of post-doctoral appointments at academic institutions also reached a new high of about 36,000, up from about 30,000 in 2001.

The number of foreign students (temporary visa holders) enrolled full time in graduate S&E programs surpassed the previous high set in 2001 and the combined number of foreign students in either full-time or part-time programs exceeded a high set in 2003.

However, the NSF report notes that the proportion of foreign students in S&E programs did not surpass the 2002 peak because the number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents seeking S&E degrees grew.

Enrollment in S&E graduate programs in the U.S. reached 516,199 in 2007. Seventy-two percent of the students were enrolled full time. Men accounted for 56% of the student total and 67% were classified as white, non-Hispanic students.

The proportion of men to women among U.S. citizens and permanent residents was fairly close (52% to 48%). Among foreign students, however, there were almost two men for every woman (66% to 34%).

At the same time, women's enrollment gains from 2006 to 2007 (5%) exceeded men's gains (4.4%).

Unlike graduate student enrollment, where U.S. citizens and permanent residents represent the majority, the majority of postdoctoral appointments (58%) went to temporary visa holders in 2007.

Google and other technology companies have argued that more H-1B visas need to be issued so they can hire highly qualified foreign-born workers.

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