cent have a bachelor’s degree, close to a quarter have a master’s degree, and roughly 5 percent have a doctoral degree.2 The time required to attain this level of education must be considered when projecting how readily DOD can expect to grow, or renew, its cadre of STEM employees.

In the U.S. school system, students who ultimately join the STEM educated workforce typically begin to diverge from the rest of the population by taking college preparatory mathematics and science in about the eighth grade. This is generally at least 8 years before baccalaureate graduation and 10 years before earning a master’s degree. Further, the United States average for attainment of a PhD in science and engineering is 7 years from entrance into graduate school, implying substantial amounts of earnings foregone while in student status. Something to consider is that the reforms related to the Bologna Declaration of 1999 in Europe aim for a 5-year process (2-year master’s plus 3-year PhD) (Kehm, 2006).

The prediction of future supply is complicated by attrition rates. The Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study found that only 35 percent of eighth grade public school students subsequently enroll in an accredited 4-year college and 22 percent in a 2-year college, for a total of 57 percent entering a 2-year or 4-year institution (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). Among postsecondary students entering 4-year colleges in 2003-2004, 24 percent had obtained degrees or persisted (i.e., were still enrolled) in STEM fields as of 2009 (National Science Board, 2012; Table 2-8). These same data underscore, however, that not all college freshmen who declare STEM majors graduate with such degrees. Among students entering 4-year colleges in 2004 and subsequently declaring STEM majors, the longitudinal study found roughly 80 percent still enrolled or having attained degrees (bachelor’s, associate’s, or certificates) in STEM fields as of 2009 (Figure 5-1). These figures are substantially lower in some STEM fields such as engineering.

Next considering all postsecondary institutions (and widening the scope to include 2-year and less-than-2-year colleges), the data show similarities in the percentage of entrants in STEM fields (Figure 5-2). The number who persisted in STEM fields or attained degrees 6 years later was, however, smaller than that for 4-year colleges alone, with 56 percent having received a degree and 14 percent still enrolled.

Visa Issues

As discussed in Chapter 4, persons who initially enter the United States on temporary visas (work or study) related to STEM fields can become citizens and thus become eligible for employment in national security related activities. International students can thus become a source of STEM hires for DOD. Further, if DOD were to adopt more liberal practices toward hiring of non-U.S. citizens as recommended in Chapter 4, the education of international students in U.S. universities would become a more important component of the STEM pipeline. This section reviews the current picture of international students in the United States and discusses other countries in which the fraction of such students is on the increase.

The United States plays host to the largest number of international students in STEM fields (Figure 5-3). China and other countries in developing Asia (the “Asia-8”) are among the largest source countries of international STEM graduates in the United States (Figure 5-4). The number of full-time graduate students in science, engineering, and health fields—largely those with F-1 non-immigrant visas—was nearly 149,000 in 2009, up considerably from just over 91,000 in 1990 (Wassen, 2012). At the bachelor’s degree level, temporary residents in 2009 were awarded only about 3 to 4 percent of degrees in STEM majors, although by specific major the fraction earned by such persons can be higher (e.g., electrical and industrial engineering degrees are each 9 percent).3 Additionally, in 2009, the foreign student population earned 26.6 percent of doctoral degrees in science and 57.4 percent of the doctoral degrees in engineering (National Science Board, 2012; Appendix Table 2-19). Upon completion of their degree, foreign students on F-1 visas have various routes by which to change their immigration status to remain in the United States and become employed in STEM fields, including through acquisition of H1-B visas (Government Accountability Office, 2007), discussed in the Chapter 4 section “Security Clearances.” Certain organizations such as Sandia National Laboratories have developed pathways by which a foreign national may become a member of

2 Of the 22 percent that have attained less than a bachelor’s degree, half are in the major occupational group, computer and mathematical sciences. See Chapter 3 for detailed discussion

3 See, for example, Appendix Table 2-19 in National Science Board (2012).



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