A November report by the National Science Foundation indicates that the number of doctoral degrees granted by American universities in the 2005-2006 academic year increased 5.1 percent from the year before.
Science and engineering degrees accounted for over two-thirds of this increase, while there was a 3.5 percent rise in the number of doctorate degrees granted in other concentrations, the document said.
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The report, which accumulated data from the federally commissioned Survey of Earned Doctorates, found that 45,596 doctoral degrees were awarded in the United States in 2005-2006 — an increase of 2,211. Of the 29,854 doctorates given out in science and engineering fields, 12,775 were given to non-U.S. citizens, according to the report.
Yale faculty members interviewed said the University has increased the number of doctorate degrees it awards overall, but at a rate slower than the national figure, and that the percentage of its foreign students receiving doctoral degrees is not as high as the national average.
In previously existing graduate programs, enrollment has remained relatively constant over the past decade, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said. But the University has been expanding its science and engineering programs in recent years and as a result has attracted an increasing number of students seeking doctorates in those areas, he said.
Butler said the increase in the number doctorate degrees in the sciences that Yale has granted is due to students’ receiving degrees in newly created programs, such as environmental engineering and biomedical engineering.
“The number of graduate students in the sciences has slowly risen over the last decade, and that’s in response to Yale’s obvious effort to increase the depth of its science programs,” he said.
Engineering Dean Paul Fleury said Yale does not reflect national trends in part because its science and engineering programs, while expanding, are still relatively small.
“Our numbers of Ph.D.s awarded are determined by our number of admits, which is deliberately limited,” he said. “We offer admission to only about 10 percent of applicants.”
The Engineering Department — whose students have a 65 percent completion rate — awards about 20 doctorate degrees per year, Fleury said.
About 30 percent of the Graduate School’s students are foreigners — most of whom are in science and engineering programs — and that percentage has not changed in over a decade, Butler said. Butler and most Yale science professors interviewed said they do not think it is important for the University to work to increase that percentage.
“While the University could perhaps attract more domestic students, this would not expand the pool of U.S. citizens interested in graduate school,” chemical engineering professor Eric Altman said. “It would only change where they go to graduate school. Any significant change [in the percentage of international students] would require changes in government policies, social attitudes and hiring practices.”
Chemistry Department Director of Graduate Studies Charles Schmuttenmaer said he is not surprised that international students are receiving an increasing number of doctoral degrees awarded at American universities.
“In chemistry, the total numbers of temporary residents who are pursuing Ph.D.s has increased much quicker than the decline in American interest,” he said. “The trend is certainly true nationwide.”
According to the report, 70 percent of doctoral degrees in electrical, civil and industrial/mechanical engineering were awarded to foreigners. In computer science, math, physics and other engineering fields, they account for over 50 percent.
But some faculty members said they think the trend is less the result of waning American interest in science graduate programs than increasing numbers of post-college options with which American students are presented.
“I think it reflects the far greater opportunities available to U.S. citizens, including professional schools that are financially out of reach for foreign students, as well as greater job opportunities for students with undergraduate degrees,” Altman said.