The number of S&E degrees awarded has increased at all levels and across many fields. 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 (Figure HED-3). State-level data on S&E degrees as a percentage of higher education degrees conferred are available in NSB State Indicator S-20 (NSB 2021c).

S&E degrees awarded, by degree level: 2000 and 2019

S&E degrees as a percentage of total degrees awarded in all fields
(Percent)
Degree level 2000 2019
Associate's degrees 6.7 10.0
Bachelor's degrees 31.8 35.6
Master's degrees 20.9 25.0
Doctoral degrees 62.0 64.5
Degrees in S&E fields
(Number)
Degree level 2000 2019
Associate's degrees 38,434 104,435
Bachelor's degrees 398,602 724,947
Master's degrees 96,230 209,566
Doctoral degrees 27,862 47,753
Source(s):

National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions Survey; National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Table Builder.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Undergraduate Degree Awards

S&E coursework at the undergraduate level prepares knowledgeable citizens in a society increasingly reliant on science and technology. Over the past 20 years, the number of undergraduate degrees awarded by U.S. academic institutions has increased in both S&E and non-S&E fields. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of associate’s degrees awarded is projected to increase by 1%, and the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded should increase by 3% over the period spanning 2017–29 (Hussar and Bailey 2020).

S&E Associate’s Degrees

Associate’s degrees are the final degree earned by some students, whereas others continue their education at 4-year colleges or universities and earn higher degrees. Many who transfer from community colleges to baccalaureate-granting institutions do not earn associate’s degrees before transferring; they may be able to transfer credit for specific courses.

Relatively few associate’s degrees are awarded in S&E fields. In 2019, 104,000 out of more than 1 million associate’s degrees (10%) were in S&E fields (see NSB Indicators 2020: Table S2-4; Table SHED-3). The total number of S&E associate’s degrees awarded declined from 2003 to 2007 but has risen in almost all years since then. Until 2012, the overall trend mirrored the pattern in computer sciences, which account for a large portion (nearly 50% in 2012 and 31% in 2019) of S&E associate’s degrees (Figure HED-4). Since 2012, the total number of S&E associate’s degrees has continued to increase despite a decline in the number of computer sciences degrees.

S&E associate's degrees awarded, by field: 2000–19

(Number)
Year Biological and agricultural sciences Computer sciences Engineering Mathematics and statistics Physical sciences Psychology Social sciences
2000 3,460 23,576 1,794 675 1,419 1,454 6,056
2001 3,642 30,113 1,898 696 1,267 1,553 6,057
2002 3,578 35,578 1,781 686 1,401 1,704 6,466
2003 3,804 46,400 2,278 735 1,191 1,785 6,612
2004 3,719 42,153 2,843 802 1,615 1,887 7,227
2005 3,887 36,140 2,557 807 1,660 1,942 7,757
2006 3,962 31,170 2,291 753 1,737 1,944 7,993
2007 4,014 27,680 2,272 827 2,015 2,213 8,464
2008 4,141 28,327 2,403 855 1,976 2,412 9,052
2009 4,357 30,050 2,329 930 2,199 3,949 10,470
2010 4,833 32,514 2,665 1,051 2,403 6,582 12,163
2011 5,578 37,675 2,994 1,645 3,163 3,866 21,100
2012 6,554 41,190 3,537 1,529 3,670 4,713 23,592
2013 6,732 38,897 3,871 1,802 4,104 6,118 24,274
2014 7,173 37,643 4,409 2,140 4,535 7,529 24,547
2015 7,749 36,421 5,004 2,697 5,062 8,736 24,920
2016 8,134 30,512 5,414 3,029 5,542 10,602 25,599
2017 8,518 31,179 6,048 3,454 5,850 11,282 26,319
2018 9,500 31,434 6,526 4,135 6,707 12,488 27,723
2019 10,393 31,939 6,492 4,631 7,099 14,481 29,400
Note(s):

Physical sciences include earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences.

Source(s):

National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions Survey; National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Table Builder.

Science and Engineering Indicators

In 2019, community colleges awarded 123,000 associate’s degrees in S&E technologies—more degrees than in S&E fields, which is a long-standing trend. S&E technologies have a more applied focus and include technician programs in engineering, health sciences, and other S&E fields (Table SHED-3). Health technologies constitute the large majority of degrees in S&E technologies (71% in 2019), followed by engineering technologies (25% in 2019), with only 4% in other fields. Degrees in S&E technologies prepare students to enter skilled technical professions directly, without the greater investment of time and money associated with obtaining a bachelor’s or advanced degree. For more data on the STW, see the Indicators 2022 report “The STEM Labor Force of Today: Scientists, Engineers, and Skilled Technical Workers.” For data on state-level variation in associate’s degrees in technology, see NSB State Indicator S-17.

The number of associate’s degrees awarded in S&E technologies peaked at 166,000 in 2012; since then, it has declined for engineering technologies (from 41,000 to 31,000) and health technologies (from 122,000 to 88,000) (Figure HED-5).

S&E technologies associate's degrees awarded, by field: 2000–19

(Number)
Year Engineering technologies Health technologies Science and other S&E technologies
2000 40,470 41,959 1,224
2001 39,732 41,013 1,310
2002 37,901 37,687 1,089
2003 39,600 41,353 1,180
2004 37,020 49,497 1,426
2005 32,488 58,432 1,601
2006 29,710 65,227 1,835
2007 30,097 69,591 2,210
2008 31,643 72,241 2,299
2009 33,243 75,734 2,195
2010 34,553 87,437 2,486
2011 38,222 107,577 2,837
2012 40,630 121,786 3,216
2013 37,475 115,739 3,359
2014 34,638 110,779 3,549
2015 34,764 105,513 3,821
2016 31,704 100,796 4,080
2017 31,561 96,480 4,540
2018 31,438 90,269 4,702
2019 30,731 87,707 4,744
Source(s):

National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions Survey; National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Table Builder.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Certificates in S&E Technologies

This report includes data on certificate awards of less than 1 academic year and awards of at least 1 but less than 2 academic years. In 2019, universities and colleges awarded roughly twice as many certificates in S&E technologies (258,000) as associate’s degrees in S&E technologies (123,000) (Table HED-2 and Table SHED-3). However, this does not mean that 258,000 students earned certificates because students often earn one or more certificates alongside or instead of a degree. As with associate’s degrees in S&E technologies, most certificates in S&E technologies were in health, followed by engineering, with few in other S&E technology fields (Figure HED-6; Table HED-2). Certificate programs are offered at a wide range of institution types, but the large majority are provided by community colleges (Figure HED-7; Table SHED-4). They enable people with or without a higher education degree to gain competency in technical skills needed in today’s marketplace. Among respondents to the Adult Training and Education Survey who were employed in the STW in 2016, around two-thirds reported that their certificate was very useful in improving their skills, around 60% found it very useful in getting a job, and just under 40% said their certificate helped increase their pay (NCES 2021a). In terms of career pathways, women frequently use their certificate to become a health care practitioner, and men often use it for jobs in installation, maintenance, and repair (Lancaster 2020).

Certificates awarded in S&E technologies for selected levels, by field: 2019

(Number)
Note(s):

Awards at the detailed field level in this table will not match other tables and figures in this report due to the allocation of all Industrial production technologies/technicians awards under Engineering technologies. Data only include awards of less than 1 academic year and awards of at least 1 but less than 2 academic years.

Source(s):

National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions Survey.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Certificates awarded for selected levels, by field: 2019

(Number)
Field Awards of less than 1 academic year Awards of at least 1 academic year but less than 2 academic years
S&E 40,829 9,534
Engineering technologies 45,507 19,987
Health technologies 99,679 89,321
Science and other S&E technologies 1,823 1,465
Source(s):

National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions Survey.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Certificates awarded for selected levels and fields, by institution type: 2019

(Number)
Institution type Health technologies Engineering technologies Science and other S&E technologies S&E
Associate's colleges 114,561 51,841 1,646 29,766
Special focus 2-year institutions 29,651 4,625 51 374
Mixed baccalaureate/ associate's colleges 23,297 5,996 1,536 8,215
All other institutions 21,491 3,032 55 12,008
Note(s):

Institution type corresponds to the 2018 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Associate's colleges are also commonly known as community colleges and public 2-year colleges. Data only include awards of less than 1 academic year and awards of at least 1 academic year but less than 2 academic years.

Source(s):

National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions Survey.

Science and Engineering Indicators

S&E Bachelor’s Degrees

The baccalaureate accounts for nearly 70% of all S&E degrees awarded. The number of S&E bachelor’s degrees received rose steadily from about 400,000 in 2000 to just under 725,000 in 2019 (see NSB Indicators 2020: Table S2-6; Table SHED-5). As a share of total bachelor’s degrees awarded, S&E degrees have increased slightly over this period, rising from 32% to 36%. State-level data on bachelor’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees in S&E fields are available in NSB State Indicator S-18 and NSB State Indicator S-19, respectively.

Growth in S&E bachelor’s degrees conferred varied by field (Figure HED-8; Table SHED-5), with most degrees awarded in social sciences, followed by biological and agricultural sciences. Large public universities have long dominated degree conferral in all fields, including S&E. Additionally, in 2019, the very high research activity doctoral universities, as per the Carnegie Classification, awarded 44% of total U.S. S&E bachelor’s degrees, though they awarded only 32% of total bachelor’s degrees (Table SHED-1). The large contribution of these institutions to producing S&E bachelor’s degrees is also a long-standing pattern.

S&E bachelor's degrees awarded, by field: 2000–19

(Number)
Year Biological and agricultural sciences Computer sciences Engineering Mathematics and statistics Physical sciences Psychology Social sciences
2000 83,132 37,519 59,487 11,714 18,597 74,656 113,497
2001 79,475 43,597 59,214 11,437 18,114 74,124 114,474
2002 79,034 49,706 60,605 12,254 17,981 77,297 119,106
2003 81,220 57,926 63,789 12,863 18,059 79,163 129,735
2004 81,808 59,968 64,680 13,735 18,122 82,606 137,739
2005 85,092 54,588 66,152 14,816 18,964 86,031 144,571
2006 90,279 48,000 68,227 15,310 20,377 88,551 148,114
2007 97,044 42,596 68,274 15,551 21,084 90,498 150,725
2008 100,872 38,922 69,908 15,841 21,966 92,989 155,670
2009 104,726 38,496 70,600 16,208 22,484 94,743 158,178
2010 110,015 40,107 74,399 16,832 23,204 97,746 163,071
2011 116,413 43,586 78,099 18,021 24,497 101,568 172,181
2012 124,954 48,034 83,263 19,819 26,286 109,782 177,429
2013 132,312 51,586 87,812 21,567 27,567 115,373 179,258
2014 138,316 56,130 93,950 22,226 28,952 118,405 177,936
2015 144,584 60,309 99,906 23,136 29,636 118,768 173,718
2016 149,613 65,186 108,976 24,293 30,029 118,646 169,414
2017 152,831 72,129 117,927 25,808 30,730 117,441 167,691
2018 157,530 80,271 124,328 27,161 31,087 117,574 169,207
2019 160,887 89,421 129,185 28,252 30,559 117,638 169,005
Note(s):

Physical sciences include earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences.

Source(s):

National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions Survey; National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Table Builder.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Graduate Degree Awards

S&E Master’s Degrees

Master’s degrees may fully prepare students for established career tracks in some S&E fields. In others, they primarily mark a step toward doctoral degrees. From 2000 to 2019, master’s degrees awarded in S&E fields more than doubled from about 96,000 to about 210,000 (see NSB Indicators 2020: Table S2-8; Table SHED-6). According to the U.S. Department of Education, this increase is projected to continue at least through 2028 (Hussar and Bailey 2020). S&E master’s degrees as a percentage of master’s degrees in all fields increased from 21% in 2000 to 25% in 2019.

Increases occurred in most major fields but were most pronounced in computer sciences and engineering (Figure HED-9). Growth in these two fields was driven largely by more students on temporary visas earning degrees, especially since 2014, as shown in Figure HED-10 and discussed in more detail in the report section International S&E Higher Education.

S&E master's degrees awarded, by field: 2000–19

(Number)
Year Biological and agricultural sciences Computer sciences Engineering Mathematics and statistics Physical sciences Psychology Social sciences
2000 10,187 14,986 25,738 3,295 4,858 13,806 23,360
2001 10,239 16,852 26,436 3,280 5,100 14,449 23,172
2002 10,360 16,965 26,180 3,424 5,031 14,204 23,486
2003 10,838 19,590 29,472 3,721 5,151 14,885 24,698
2004 11,865 20,208 33,922 4,297 5,600 15,700 27,704
2005 12,291 18,489 33,899 4,597 5,701 16,478 29,415
2006 12,818 17,138 32,263 4,890 5,962 17,302 30,626
2007 12,920 16,314 30,936 5,035 5,875 18,594 30,604
2008 13,685 17,151 33,177 5,152 5,926 18,836 32,477
2009 14,270 17,988 36,510 5,459 5,680 20,744 33,866
2010 15,352 18,021 37,614 5,958 6,000 21,032 35,949
2011 16,362 19,519 41,282 6,203 6,262 22,363 38,662
2012 18,156 21,015 43,175 6,684 6,758 24,121 41,463
2013 18,805 22,833 43,388 7,346 6,889 25,140 41,996
2014 19,647 24,635 45,362 7,784 6,842 25,332 41,626
2015 20,162 31,552 49,207 8,269 6,956 24,029 40,780
2016 21,413 40,211 55,166 9,390 6,869 25,041 40,202
2017 22,372 46,615 56,971 10,294 6,939 24,653 38,328
2018 23,666 46,548 55,982 12,153 6,983 25,128 37,967
2019 24,808 45,754 53,075 13,639 6,899 26,388 39,003
Note(s):

Physical sciences include earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences.

Source(s):

National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions Survey; National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Table Builder.

Science and Engineering Indicators

S&E master's degrees awarded, by citizenship and selected field: 2000–19

(Number)
Year Engineering: U.S. citizens and permanent residents Engineering: Students on temporary visas Computer sciences: U.S. citizens and permanent residents Computer sciences: Students on temporary visas
2000 15,914 9,824 8,362 6,624
2001 15,434 11,002 9,091 7,761
2002 15,380 10,800 9,252 7,713
2003 16,125 13,347 10,423 9,167
2004 18,282 15,640 11,312 8,896
2005 19,034 14,865 10,975 7,514
2006 18,972 13,291 10,489 6,649
2007 19,276 11,660 10,027 6,287
2008 19,749 13,428 9,746 7,405
2009 20,940 15,570 9,641 8,347
2010 21,685 15,929 10,066 7,955
2011 23,895 17,387 10,786 8,733
2012 25,591 17,584 11,650 9,365
2013 25,469 17,919 12,725 10,108
2014 25,471 19,891 13,409 11,226
2015 24,747 24,460 14,199 17,353
2016 24,742 30,424 14,900 25,311
2017 24,958 32,013 16,542 30,073
2018 25,745 30,237 17,731 28,817
2019 26,351 26,724 19,799 25,955
Source(s):

National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions Survey; National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Table Builder.

Science and Engineering Indicators

S&E Doctoral Degrees

Doctoral education in the United States generates new knowledge by closely linking specialized education and research experience. The results are important for U.S. competitiveness in a global knowledge-based economy and for society as a whole. Doctoral education prepares a new generation of researchers and a highly skilled workforce for academia, industry, government, and nonprofit organizations. Data on financial support for doctoral education and its linkage to R&D performance at colleges and universities are available in the Indicators 2022 report “Academic Research and Development.”

S&E fields accounted for the majority (65%) of doctorates conferred by U.S. universities in 2019. During 2000–19, the number of U.S. S&E doctorates conferred annually increased from around 28,000 to 48,000, faster than the rise in total doctorate awards (from nearly 45,000 in 2000 to 74,000 in 2019) (see NSB Indicators 2020: Table S2-10; Table SHED-7). The number of doctoral degrees awarded is projected to continue increasing at least through 2028 (Hussar and Bailey 2020). Across fields, the biggest percentage increases since 2000 occurred in engineering, computer sciences, and medical sciences (Figure HED-11). The dramatic increases in master’s degrees awarded to students on temporary visas is not seen at the doctoral level; as discussed later in the report, however, students on temporary visas earn the majority of U.S. doctorates in several fields.

S&E doctoral degrees awarded, by selected field: 2000–19

(Number)
Year Agricultural sciences Biological sciences Computer sciences Engineering Mathematics and statistics Medical sciences Physical sciences Psychology Social sciences
2000 984 4,992 777 5,384 1,081 893 4,023 4,200 3,982
2001 934 4,750 768 5,561 1,001 864 3,988 4,538 3,913
2002 969 4,596 750 5,196 927 882 3,809 4,185 3,822
2003 1,060 5,212 816 5,282 1,009 850 3,922 4,258 3,866
2004 1,016 5,491 910 5,931 1,065 1,010 3,885 4,389 3,886
2005 1,004 5,925 1,121 6,548 1,180 1,144 4,192 4,681 3,910
2006 1,037 6,138 1,416 7,402 1,297 1,252 4,586 4,484 4,092
2007 1,068 6,703 1,597 8,066 1,356 1,293 4,936 4,696 4,166
2008 1,080 7,319 1,696 8,110 1,362 1,320 4,888 4,600 4,304
2009 1,143 7,429 1,574 7,915 1,536 1,254 5,140 4,046 4,501
2010 982 7,571 1,561 7,812 1,594 1,506 5,039 3,606 4,484
2011 1,053 7,596 1,562 8,478 1,590 1,497 5,247 3,952 4,727
2012 1,144 7,817 1,690 8,873 1,670 1,716 5,326 3,867 4,972
2013 1,218 7,825 1,809 9,489 1,824 1,867 5,497 4,280 4,986
2014 1,228 8,207 1,935 10,135 1,864 2,148 5,808 4,574 5,188
2015 1,381 7,890 1,951 10,406 1,802 2,433 5,798 4,533 5,417
2016 1,343 7,858 1,936 10,358 1,855 2,597 5,990 4,526 5,187
2017 1,364 8,003 1,934 10,547 1,925 2,853 5,976 4,486 5,293
2018 1,345 8,096 1,974 10,951 2,013 3,150 6,137 4,325 5,216
2019 1,442 7,863 2,174 11,330 2,009 3,281 6,274 4,297 5,281
Note(s):

Physical sciences include earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences. Other health sciences are excluded. Data differ from doctoral degree data in other tables and figures in this report that are based on the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics Survey of Earned Doctorates and that refer to research doctorates only. Greatest differences are in psychology and medical sciences.

Source(s):

National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions Survey; National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Table Builder.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Since 2000, public universities experienced large increases in doctoral degree awards and in 2019 awarded most of the U.S. doctoral degrees in S&E fields (66%) and in all fields (61%). The 131 highest research activity doctoral universities award most of the U.S. doctoral degrees across virtually all fields of study (Table SHED-1). In 2019, these institutions awarded over 48,000 total doctorates (65% of all doctorates) and nearly 36,000 S&E doctorates (74% of all S&E doctorates). Although still small, the number of S&E doctorates awarded by for-profit institutions (across all classification types) increased fivefold from 2000 to 2019, from about 400 to over 2,000 (or 5% of S&E doctorates).

Time to Doctoral Degree Completion

The time required to earn a doctoral degree has important implications for those pursuing a degree, the universities awarding the degree, and the agencies and organizations funding doctoral study. Median time to degree (as measured by time from graduate school entry to doctorate receipt) varies across fields. For 2020, in S&E broad fields, the median ranged from 6.3 years for physical sciences and earth sciences to 7.9 years in psychology and social sciences (NCSES SED 2020: Table 31). Times in non-S&E fields are longer. Median time to degree varies by demographic group (NCSES SED 2020: Table 32), but these variations largely reflect differences among broad fields of study.