Those who worry that the United States isn't producing enough Ph.D.s in science and engineering can take heart from the National Science Foundation's latest Survey of Earned Doctorates, which has just come out. It shows that U.S. institutions granted a record high 31,801 science and engineering doctorates in 2007, a 6.5% increase over 2006. The increase continues a steady, upward trend that began in 2003. And it wasn't just more non-U.S. citizens earning science and engineering doctorates (up 6% from 2006) but also more U.S. citizens (up 3.6%). There was also a bigger increase in the number of women receiving Ph.D.s (up 6.8%) than men (up 6.2%).
Are these numbers evidence of the increasing attractiveness of doctoral programs or simply the reflection of a weak economy? It's hard to tell. Traditionally, students tend to seek refuge in graduate school when it gets tough to find jobs. In fact, the last slump in Ph.D. production occurred between 1998 and 2002, which some experts attribute to the booming economy of the 1990s. (The logic being that fewer students enrolled in Ph.D. programs in the mid-to-late 1990s because they were snapped up by industry, and hence fewer students graduated with Ph.D.s between the late 1990s and the early 2000s.) Another thought that might dampen excitement over the report is this: more Ph.D.s means more competition for scarce academic jobs.