U.S. institutions in 2015 awarded 55,006 research doctorate degrees, the highest number ever reported, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), an annual census of research degree recipients.
The report, published by the National Science Foundation's (NSF) National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), supplies data and analysis for a vital U.S. economic interest: the American system of doctoral education.
The U.S. system of doctoral education is widely considered to be among the world's best, as evidenced by the large number of international students enrolling at U.S. universities. Other nations that recognize the contributions of doctoral recipients to the economy and society invest heavily in doctoral education. Without continued investment and improvement, the U.S. doctoral education system's preeminence is not guaranteed.
The NCSES annual count of U.S. doctoral recipients measures the investment in human resources devoted to science, engineering, research and scholarship. NCSES identified overall trends in the 2015 numbers, including:
- Science and engineering (S&E) degrees continued a 40-year trend of outpacing non-S&E degrees.
- From 1975 to 2015, the number of S&E degrees more than doubled, with an average annual growth of 1.9 percent.
- The number of non-S&E degrees awarded in 2015 is virtually identical to the number awarded in 1975. As a result of the different growth rates, the proportion of S&E doctorates climbed from 58 percent in 1975 to 75 percent in 2015.
- The number of S&E doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders grew to 14,037 in 2015, up 2 percent compared to the previous year and up 30 percent since 2005.
- The number of S&E doctorates awarded in 2015 to U.S. citizens and permanent residents grew to 24,547 in 2015, up 3 percent from the previous year and 43 percent since 2005.
During the 2005 to 2015 period, 10 countries accounted for 71 percent of the doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders. The top three -- China, India and South Korea -- accounted for more than half of the doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders.
Women earned 46 percent of all doctorates in 2015, continuing a trend of women's increasing prevalence in the annual total of recipients.
Among U.S. citizen and permanent resident doctorate recipients, the proportion of doctorates awarded to African Americans rose from 6.2 percent to 6.5 percent between 2005 and 2015. Over the same period, the rate for Hispanics or Latinos grew from 5.1 percent to 7.0 percent.
For more information -- including how much education-related debt doctorate recipients incur, what kind of employment they find, and how much they earn -- view the full report.
NCSES is the nation's leading provider of statistical data on the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.