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Doctorate Degrees are on the Rise in the U.S.

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According to a report issued by the National Science Foundation in November 2010, the number of research doctorates awarded in the United States in 2009 was the highest number ever reported.

The Survey of Earned Doctorates, or the SED, found that U.S. academic institutions awarded 49,562 research doctorate degrees in 2009. This was an increase of 1.6% over the 48,802 research doctorate degrees awarded in 2008.

Science and Engineering Doctorate Degrees

The number of doctorates awarded in 2009 was up from 2008 in seven of the eight major science fields of study, and doctorates awarded in science and engineering fields accounted for most of the overall growth in doctorate awards in 2009.

Although the 33,470 science and engineering doctorates awarded in 2009 were only a 1.9% increase over those awarded in 2008, the number of science and engineering doctorates awarded have nearly doubled since 1999.

The study shows that the number of doctorates awarded in science and engineering fields increased due to a growing number of female science and engineering doctorate recipients.

Non-Science and Engineering Doctorate Degrees

The number of doctorates awarded in non-science and engineering fields in 2009 increased 1.0% over the 2008 total, to 16,092.

The number of doctorates awarded in health grew 48.8% between 2008 and 2009 and the number of doctorates in professional fields increased 28.9%. The number of doctorates awarded in education has remained steady over the past decade while the number of humanities doctorates fell 7.3% from 1999 to 2009.

Other Key Findings of the Survey of Earned Doctorates:

  • The number of doctorates earned by U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are members of racial/ethnic minority groups continues to grow faster than the number earned by white recipients.
  • The number of doctorate recipients with temporary visas was down 3.5% from 2008.
  • The proportion of 2009 doctorate recipients with employment prospects in the coming year (gauged by definite commitments to a position) was slightly less than that reported in 2008 and about the same as that reported in 2007, the year before the advent of the recession.

The SED is an annual census of all individuals who receive a research doctorate from a U.S. academic institution in an academic year. The 2009 census covered individuals who earned doctorates in the academic year ending June 2009. The National Science Foundation’s Science Resources Statistics division compiled the results of the survey.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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