people with extraordinary knowledge, particularly in science and engineering. Nobel laureate Julius Axelrod was probably guilty of understatement when he observed that “99% of the discoveries are made by 1% of the scientists.” It would seem that one cannot make up for the lack of an Einstein with legions of less-capable scientists.

But the trends in America’s scientific and engineering workforce are not encouraging:

  • During the past 2 decades, part of an era that has been described as science and engineering’s greatest period of accomplishment, the numbers of engineers, mathematicians, physical scientists, and geoscientists graduating with bachelor’s degrees in the United States have declined by 18%. The proportion of university students achieving bachelor’s degrees in these fields has declined by almost 40% during that time.

  • Almost twice as many bachelor’s degrees were awarded in physics the year before Sputnik, deemed a time of dangerous educational neglect, as last year.

  • The number of engineering doctorates awarded by US universities to US citizens dropped by 23% in the past decade.

  • In 2002, Asian countries as a whole awarded 636,000 first engineering degrees, European countries awarded 370,000, and North America awarded 122,000.

  • The US share of the global output of doctorates in science and engineering declined from 52% in 1986 to 22% in 2003.

  • The United States ranks 17th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering, a fall from third place three decades ago. It ranks 26th in the proportion receiving undergraduate degrees in mathematics.

  • The share of doctoral degrees awarded by US universities in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics to US citizens dropped from 65% in 1987 to 53% in 2005 (although the composition of this group was not uniform—for example, 84% of the degrees in psychology go to US citizens).



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement