This survey is designed to provide a comprehensive picture of training of future scientists and engineers in US graduate schools and is used to assess future supply and demand. Graduate students counted in the survey are enrolled for credit in science and engineering master's-degree and PhD programs in the fall term of the survey year, and MD, DO, DVM, and DDS candidates are reported only if they will also receive a PhD. The survey also includes information on postdoctoral appointees and other nonfaculty researchers in academic departments and programs.

The survey is distributed to departments through an institutional coordinator and information is provided on students that are associated with departments. Nearly 10,400 graduate departments at 730 institutions are surveyed. Students in interdisciplinary or interinstitutional programs are reported only by their primary department. Therefore, information about individual programs could be distributed across departments, and data would be aggregated for departments with multiple degree programs.

The following types of information are requested:

  • Number of full-time graduate students separated by type of financial support, source of support, and sex, and number of first-year students (no distinction is made between MS and PhD students.
  • Number of part-time students and their sex.
  • Ethnicity of full-time and part-time students who are US citizens.
  • Number of full-time and part-time foreign students.
  • Number of postdoctoral and nonfaculty research positions in the department, with type of support for the positions, whether US citizen or foreign, and the sex of the person in each position.

The NSF requests that the survey form be returned by January 31 for data on the previous fall enrollments. The data are reported in a series of reports, many of which are available online through the Internet, on the different aspects of education by institution and field within the institution. However, data tapes will provide more detailed information on separate departments.

Data in table E.3, and figures 2.3 and 2.6 are taken from this NSF survey and are not directly comparable with other data, from the SED and SDR, used throughout the report. The NSF survey counts only persons at academic institutional whereas the SDR counts PhDs in all work environments. Furthermore, NSF definitions of fields differ somewhat from those used in this report (Appendix D). Those differences are not important when addressing questions about graduate students, because students are at academic institutions where NSF performs its survey. However, large differences in the count of postdoctoral fellows can exist between the NSF survey and the SDR. We have used the NSF count of postdoctoral fellows at academic institutions as a starting point because NSF counts both US citizens and foreign nationals, whereas the SDR excludes foreign nationals who have not received their PhD in this country. We have then estimated the number of postdoctoral fellows who might be in government, industry, and other nonacademic laboratories to obtain an estimate of the overall number of postdoctoral fellows in the United States.

Data Considerations

The quality of the survey data depends on the knowledge of the persons at the department level who complete the survey.

  • Population. In 1995, the NSF survey universe consisted of 722 responding units at 602 institutions. This is a complete survey universe and has been such since the fall of 1988. From 1984 to 1987, master's-degree-granting institutions were surveyed on a sample basis. During the fall 1988 survey cycle, the criteria for including departments in the survey universe were tightened, and all departments surveyed were reviewed. Departments not primarily oriented toward granting research degrees were no longer considered to meet the definition of S&E. As a result of the review, it was determined that a number of departments, primarily in the field of "Social Sciences, not elsewhere classified", were engaged in training primarily teachers, practitioners, administrators, or managers rather than researchers; these departments were deleted from the database. That process was continued during the fall 1989–1995 survey cycles and expanded to ensure trend consistency for the entire 1975–1995 period. As a result, total enrollments and social-science enrollments for all years were reduced. Any time-series problem between 1987 and 1988 should be small. The definition of "medical schools" was revised during the fall 1992 survey cycle to include only institutional components that are members of the Association of American Medical Colleges. That could effect data generated after the fall 1992 survey in that the association excludes schools of nursing, public health, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and other health-related disciplines; this change is not considered to have a major effect on the data.


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