Interest in Graduate Science and Engineering Programs on the Rise

By Chris Hassan
Posted June 13, 2012 06:39 PM

Enrollment for graduate science and engineering programs is up.
Enrollment for graduate science and engineering programs is up.
A total of three years have passed since President Barack Obama launched the Educate to Innovate campaign, which was designed to improve American students’ achievement in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Based on new data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), interest in the sciences - and engineering in particular - has increased among graduate students.

Using data from 13,711 organizational units at 574 colleges and universities, NSF officials recorded a 35% enrollment increase in science and engineering graduate programs between 2000 and 2010.

A deeper look at the report’s findings provides a snapshot of who these students are and what types of master’s and doctorate degree programs they entered, as well as the postdoctoral work they find most appealing. For example, greater numbers of individuals are going to school full time, as enrollment for these types of tracks was up 40% since 2000, compared to a 20% increase in part-time enrollment. In addition, growth is slightly higher among women than men, as the number of female STEM students rose by 40% in 2010, as opposed to 30% for males.

Of the science and engineering programs, biomedical engineering experienced the largest change in enrollment numbers. In 2000, this field attracted a total of 3,197 graduate students, whereas in 2010, 8,497 individuals were ready to enhance their knowledge of this area of the healthcare industry.

On top of the increased interest in biomedical engineering, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 62% increase in job opportunities for professionals in this field through 2020. Part of this rise in employment can be attributed to the aging baby boomer generation and its need for biomedical devices and procedures.

While no science programs came close to seeing the type of enrollment change experienced by biomedical engineering, the number of students interested in the field of mathematical science rose by 50% between 2000 and 2010. In addition, biological sciences saw a 35% increase, while agricultural, physical and social sciences all went up by 30%.

The NSF’s data only applies to the graduate and postdoctoral levels, but it certainly helps President Obama’s STEM goal, which, according to The White House’s website, is to strengthen America’s role as the "world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation."

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