Executive Summary

Key takeaways:

  • U.S. higher education institutions awarded 79,000 certificates, 155,000 associate’s degrees, 812,000 bachelor’s degrees, 217,000 master’s degrees, and 48,000 doctoral degrees in science and engineering (S&E) fields in 2021. Overall, S&E degree awards at all levels continued long-term trends of gradual increases during the COVID-19 pandemic, although S&E doctoral degrees decreased from 2020 to 2021.
  • S&E degree awards increased as a share of all certificates, associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees awarded between 2012 and 2021. The share of doctoral degrees awarded in S&E fields did not increase but was the highest among award levels at 66% of total doctoral degrees.
  • In 2021, most associate’s degrees in S&E and S&E-related fields were awarded by community colleges. The most popular field of study for these credentials was health professions and related programs.
  • S&E certificates and doctoral degrees awarded by for-profit institutions increased by 58% and 203%, respectively, from 2012 to 2021. In contrast, associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree awards from for-profit institutions declined by 82%, 54%, and 18%, respectively.
  • In 2019, about a third of postsecondary students took at least one distance education course; in 2020, about three-fourths did so, including nearly half of students who were exclusively taking distance education courses, reflecting the need for remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Between 2012 and 2021, the percentage of S&E certificates and degrees earned by American Indian or Alaska Native, Black or African American, and Hispanic students collectively increased at every award level.
  • Surpassing pre-COVID pandemic levels, enrollment of international S&E graduate students studying in the United States increased rapidly from about 196,000 in fall 2020 to 308,000 in fall 2022.
  • In 2020, India awarded the most S&E first university degrees (2.5 million), followed by China (2.0 million) and then the United States (900,000). China awarded the highest number of S&E doctoral degrees (43,000), followed closely by the United States (42,000), which China surpassed in 2019.