In its Vision 2030, the National Science Board (NSB) noted that talent is one of four elements of science and engineering (S&E) leadership that the United States must maintain if it is to continue leading the world in innovation in 2030 (NSB 2020). Building on elementary and secondary education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), higher education in S&E and S&E-related fields is essential to developing the talent of U.S. adults and attracting and retaining talent from around the world.
This report describes U.S. undergraduate and graduate education in S&E and S&E-related fields of study, including trends in awards over the last decade and international comparisons. Degree data are generally provided from academic year 2011–12 to academic year 2020–21, meaning that this is the first edition of the report to include detailed indicators of U.S. S&E higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this report, S&E fields include the following disciplines, referred to as broad fields of study: agricultural sciences and natural resources; biological and biomedical sciences; computer and information sciences; engineering; geosciences, atmospheric sciences, and ocean sciences; mathematics and statistics; multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary sciences; physical sciences; psychology; and social sciences. At the doctoral level only, health sciences are also included in S&E fields of study.
S&E-related fields of study include health professions and related programs; homeland security and fire protection; science and mathematics teacher education; technology and technical fields; and other S&E-related fields. For more information on the definitions of S&E and S&E-related fields and changes in them over time, see sidebar Revisions to Classification of IPEDS Degree Data under the NCSES Taxonomy of Disciplines.
The report begins by discussing diversity among postsecondary institutions in the United States, including minority-serving institutions (MSIs), community colleges, for-profit institutions, geographic diversity in S&E concentration of academic awards, and online or distance education. This provides important context for describing 10-year trends in completions of S&E and S&E-related awards—including sub-associate certificates as well as associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and research doctoral degrees—in the second section. The third section examines the demographic characteristics of S&E and S&E-related awardees, including sex, race and ethnicity, and citizenship. The fourth section of the report compares U.S. postsecondary educational attainment and S&E degree production with those of other countries, with new content on S&E degree production intensity that takes into account differences in countries’ population size. Selected aspects of students’ experiences related to the COVID-19 pandemic are discussed in the sidebar Higher Education and COVID-19: Effects on Student Participation, Plans, and Enrollment.
Information concerning U.S. higher education in S&E fields is also available in other Indicators reports. The Indicators 2024 report “Elementary and Secondary STEM Education” describes STEM education that precedes higher education and students’ transitions from secondary to postsecondary education. The Indicators 2024 report “Academic Research and Development” provides more detail on graduate education, including financial support of S&E graduate students and postdocs. The Indicators 2024 report “The STEM Labor Force: Scientists, Engineers, and Skilled Technical Workers” addresses the employment patterns and career outcomes of individuals with various levels of education in S&E and S&E-related fields. Science and Engineering Indicators State Indicators provides information on many of these topics within U.S. states (NSB 2022c).