Washington Update

NSF Releases 2019 Survey of Earned Doctorates Data

By: Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm
Thursday, December 17, 2020

National Science Foundation (NSF) released the 2019 Survey of Earned Doctorates report, data tables, and resources earlier this month. Monitoring the number of degrees awarded, along with fields of study, path to the doctorate, postgraduation trends, and demographic information are key to making informed advancements in this country’s doctoral education system and crucial for NSF’s commitment to broadening participation.

Overall, the number of doctorate recipients across all fields of study increased 1.1 percent from 2018, totaling 55,703 degrees awarded in 2019. The share of doctorates earned by temporary visa holders in 2019 was slightly higher than average at 38 percent; from 2010 to 2017 temporary visa holders earned 36 percent of doctorates. Similarly, commitments of employment across fields also improved compared to recent prior years.

Participation of Hispanic or Latinx individuals rose to 4,007, or 7 percent, an increase from 3,590 in 2018. Black or African American doctorate recipients increased slightly in numbers from 3,051 in 2018 to 3,095 in 2019. Although the overall number of doctoral recipients increased between 2018 and 2019, the number of Black or African American individuals earning a doctorate represents approximately the same share of the total at about 5.5 percent. There has been little change in the number or percentage of American Indian or Alaska Natives earning doctorates over the past decade; in 2010 there were 129 doctoral recipients and in 2019 there were 125 graduates, representing less than 1 percent of all degree awardees.

In life science degree fields, which accounted for 12,781 degrees awarded or 22.9 percent of total doctoral degrees in 2019, 54.5 percent of doctorate awardees were female and 26.6 percent were temporary visa holders. The majority of life science degrees awarded to U.S. citizens (9,052 total) went to White individuals (68 percent), followed by Asian degree earners (11.5 percent), Hispanic or Latinx doctoral recipients (8.5 percent), Black or African American recipients (6 percent), and American Indian or Alaska Native degree recipients (0.3 percent). The median age at doctorate degree in 2019 for life science graduates was 31 years, and the median time to degree from the start of the doctoral program was 5.5 years. Slightly over half of life science doctoral graduates in 2019 reported having earned a master’s degree, and 22.5 percent had previously attended community college. Limitations of any type, such as visual, hearing, walking, lifting, and cognitive, were reported by 8.1 percent of life science degree recipients.

Although definite commitment of employment or postdoctoral study across all fields has rebounded, the life sciences has shown a decline over the past two decades. In 1999, 72.4 percent of life science doctoral graduates had a commitment of employment compared to 66.6 percent in 2019. However, this is an improvement compared to recent years. In 2014 only 58.1 percent of life science doctoral recipients had a commitment of employment.

The Survey of Earned Doctorates provides valuable data from U.S. academic institutions on the up-and-coming workforce, including demographics, educational history, and postgraduation plans. Data tables, resources, and the 2019 report can all be accessed on the NSF interactive website.