U.S. and Global Education

U.S. eighth graders rank in the middle of advanced economies in international mathematics and science assessments, and U.S. national assessments of mathematics show little to no growth in scores over the past decade. The United States awards the most S&E doctoral degrees of any single country and receives the largest number of internationally mobile students.

K–12 Mathematics and Science

Internationally, U.S. eighth graders ranked in the middle of the advanced economies that participated in science and mathematics assessments (Figure 1). Singapore was the highest scoring country. While U.S. students’ mathematics scores have improved since 1990 on national assessments, improvements have slowed in the past decade (Figure 2). Science literacy scores and technology and engineering literacy scores improved 4 points and 2 points (out of a maximum score of 300), respectively, during the period for which comparable data are available.

Average TIMSS mathematics and science scores of students in grade 8 among selected high-income countries and economies: 2015

TIMSS = Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.

Note(s)

Nineteen developed economies participated in grade 8 TIMSS. Of these, Canada, England, Ireland, Israel, Lithuania, Norway, Slovenia, and Sweden had average mathematics or science scores that were not statistically different from that of the United States and therefore are not shown. Russia, an upper-middle income economy, is included for comparison purposes. TIMSS participants include both countries, which are complete, independent political entities, and non-national entities (e.g., Hong Kong). Developed economies are based on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) designation of advanced economies (Table A, pg. 132 in World Economic Outlook: Challenges to Steady Growth, 2018). IMF classifies Russia as a developing economy, but it is included in this analysis because it is a large economy with high levels of student achievement. See Martin et al. (2016) and Mullis et al. (2016) for more details on the TIMSS performance.

Source(s)

NCSES, special tabulations (2018) of the 2015 TIMSS.

Indicators 2020: K–12 Education

Average scores of U.S. students in grade 8 on the NAEP mathematics, science, and TEL assessments: 1990–2018

NAEP = National Assessment of Educational Progress; TEL = technology and engineering literacy.

Note(s)

Assessments are not scheduled for all years. For more information on NAEP, see https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

Source(s)

NCSES, special tabulations (2018) of the 1990–2018 NAEP mathematics, TEL, and science assessments, NCES, ED.

Indicators 2020: K–12 Education

Degree Awards

Community colleges play a key role in preparing Americans to enter the workforce with associate’s degrees or certificates or to transition to four-year educational institutions. In 2017, the United States awarded 93,000 associate’s degrees in S&E fields and another 133,000 in S&E technologies. Among U.S. students who earned S&E bachelor’s degrees between 2010 and 2017, about half (47%) had done some coursework at a community college and nearly a fifth (18%) earned associate’s degrees.

According to the most recent estimates, the United States awarded nearly 800,000 S&E first university degrees in 2016, broadly equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. The 28 European Union (EU) countries together produced nearly 1 million of these degrees, with the top 6 EU countries accounting for about 70% of the EU total (see Glossary for EU member countries). China produced 1.7 million S&E first university degrees. The number of such degrees in China has doubled over the past 10 years, while other large, degree-producing countries have seen modest increases (Figure 3). Much of China’s increase has been in engineering, which accounted for nearly 70% of China’s S&E first university degrees.

First university degrees in S&E, by selected region, country, or economy: 2000–16

EU = European Union; EU top 6 = France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Note(s)

Data are not available for all regions, countries, or economies for all years. To facilitate international comparison, data for the United States are those reported to the OECD, which vary slightly from the NCSES classification of fields presented in other sections of the report. Data are not available for all countries or economies for all years. The EU top 6 total includes aggregated data for the six EU countries producing the highest number of S&E first university degrees in 2016: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The data source for Japan changed in 2014, which may potentially result in a time series break.

Source(s)

OECD, Education and Training Indicators, 2019; Eurostat, Education and training database; Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Japan), Survey of Education (various years); National Bureau of Statistics (China), China Statistical Yearbook (various years); Ministry of Education, Educational Statistics (Taiwan) (various years).

Indicators 2020: Higher Education

The United States awarded about 40,000 S&E doctorates in 2016 (Figure 4). The combined EU countries awarded about 77,000. Starting from a low base, China has seen a rapid increase over time and in 2015 awarded about 34,000 S&E doctoral degrees, predominantly in the natural sciences and engineering. China surpassed the United States in 2007 as the world’s largest producer of doctoral degrees in natural sciences and engineering (excluding social and behavioral sciences) and has remained in the lead ever since. In 2015, China awarded 32,000 doctorates in these fields and the United States awarded 30,000.

Doctoral degrees in S&E, by selected region, country, or economy: 2000–16

EU = European Union; EU top 6 = France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Note(s)

Data are not available for all regions, countries, or economies for all years. To facilitate international comparison, data for the United States are those reported to the OECD, which vary slightly from the NCSES classification of fields presented in other sections of the report. Data are not available for all countries or economies for all years. The EU top 6 total includes aggregated data for the six EU countries producing the highest number of S&E doctoral degrees in 2016: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. EU top 6 includes estimated data for some countries and some years when country data are not available.

Source(s)

OECD, Education and Training Indicators, 2019; Eurostat, Education and training database; Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Japan), Survey of Education (various years); National Bureau of Statistics (China), China Statistical Yearbook (various years); Ministry of Education, Educational Statistics (Taiwan) (various years).

Indicators 2020: Higher Education

Internationally Mobile Students and Stay Rates

Understanding the relationship between degrees conferred in a country and the capabilities of its workforce is complicated as rising numbers of students receive higher education outside their home countries. In the United States, a substantial proportion of S&E doctoral degrees are conferred to international students with temporary visas. In 2017, temporary visa holders earned one-third (34%) of S&E doctoral degrees, a relatively stable proportion over time. They account for half or more of the doctoral degrees awarded in engineering, mathematics and computer sciences, and economics. Three Asian countries—China, India, and South Korea—are the largest source countries and accounted for just over half (54%) of all international recipients of U.S. S&E research doctoral degrees since 2000. By comparison, students on temporary visas earn a smaller share (6% in 2017) of S&E bachelor’s degrees. However, the number of these students has more than doubled over the past 10 years.

A majority of the S&E doctorate recipients with temporary visas—ranging between 64% and 71% between 2003 and 2017—stayed in the United States five years after obtaining their degree. Those from China and India, however, saw a decline in their respective “stay rates” from 93% and 90%, respectively, in 2003 to 84% and 85%, respectively, in 2013; the rates remained stable from 2013 through 2017. The stay rate increased for those from South Korea (from 36% in 2003 to 57% in 2017). Stay rates also vary by field of doctoral degree. Among S&E doctorate recipients, social sciences (52%) has a lower stay rate than the average across all fields (71% in 2017).

The United States is the destination for the largest number of internationally mobile students worldwide (19% in 2016). Other popular destinations include the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, and Russia. However, enrollment of international students at U.S. institutions has declined since 2016. Underlying this overall decline is a mixed picture that varies by degree level and field of study (Figure 5), as well as by country of origin. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of international students studying science rose at the undergraduate level and declined slightly at the graduate level; the number of those studying engineering declined at both levels. Among the two largest source countries, the number of Chinese S&E graduate students at U.S. institutions increased during this period, whereas the number of those from India declined.

International students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions, by broad area of study and year: 2016–18

Note(s)

Undergraduate level includes associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. Graduate level includes master’s and doctoral degrees. Data include active foreign national students on F-1 visas and exclude those on optional practical training. Numbers are rounded to the nearest 10. Detail may not add to total because of rounding. The data reflect fall enrollment in a given year and include students with “active” status as of November 15 of that year. For more information on the SEVIS database, see https://www.ice.gov/sevis/overview.

Source(s)

DHS, ICE, special tabulations (2018), SEVIS database.

Indicators 2020: Higher Education