The number of research doctorates awarded in the US fell about 3 per cent in 2010, from 49,554 to 48,069, according to statistics released by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on 22 November.
The development represents the first decline in doctorates awarded by US academic institutions since 2002.
NSF explained that the 2010 drop was “magnified” by the recent reclassification of many Doctor of Education (EdD) degree programmes from the research doctorate to the professional doctorate category, which led to the discontinuation of data collection from the reclassified degree programmes through the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED).
“The reclassification resulted in a substantially lower number of doctorates awarded in education than would have been the case had the graduates of the reclassified EdD degree programs participated in the 2010 SED,” explained the NSF InfoBrief, which was written by Mark Fiegene, a project officer in the agency’s science resources statistics division.
NSF found that the number of US doctorates awarded in science and engineering (S&E) fields of study dipped slightly from 2009 after seven consecutive years of growth. In total, 33,141 S&E doctorates were awarded in 2010.
The figure, which represents nearly 70 per cent of all doctorates, is 1 per cent below the 2009 level but more than 27 per cent above the 2000 figure.
Overall, doctoral awards were down from 2009 in five of the eight major science fields of study, with agricultural sciences showing the largest decrease of nearly 16 per cent.
There were much smaller decreases in physical sciences; psychology; social sciences; and earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences—all dropping by no more than 2 per cent, according to NSF.
The largest gain was observed in the computer sciences, with 3.5 per cent more doctorates awarded in 2010 than in 2009.
Doctorates awarded in engineering fields also experienced a 1.2 per cent decrease in 2010, the second straight year of decline following six consecutive years of growth.
However, materials science engineering and electrical engineering showed noticeable growth in doctoral awards, increasing by 7.2 per cent and 4.8 per cent respectively. Aerospace/aeronautical engineering and industrial/manufacturing engineering reported declines of more than 15 per cent in the same period.
By comparison, the number of doctorates awarded in 2010 in non-S&E fields other than education grew 0.8 per cent in 2010, bolstered by an increase of more than 2 per cent in the number of doctorates in humanities fields.