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Graduate enrollment in S&E programs has been a relatively level 22-26% of total enrollments since 1993 (see Figures TS-1A, B, C, and D and TS-2). Growth in the number of S&E doctorates awarded is due primarily to the increased numbers of international students but also to the increasing participation of women and underrepresented minority groups.7 If the primary objective of the US S&E enterprise is to maintain excellence, a major challenge is to determine how to continue to attract the best international students and at the same time encourage the best domestic students to enter S&E undergraduate and graduate programs.


There are inherent disincentives that push students away from S&E programs and careers. These disincentives fall into three broad categories: curriculum, economics, and environment. Undergraduate attrition may be due partly to a disconnect between the culture and curricula in high schools compared with those at colleges and universities.8 For example, poor mathematics preparation in high school may underlie attrition in undergraduate physics programs. Underrepresented groups such as Blacks and American Indians, who are educated disproportionately in underserved communities, are on the whole less well prepared for college.9 These types of problems suggest transitional programs to bridge the gap between high school and college, but the value of such strategies has not been compared with those at other levels in the educational system.

Higher education is costly, and employment opportunities fluctuate. Whether a student perceives that a degree will lead to a viable career is a major factor determining choice of field.10 This is illustrated particularly

tence and Graduation. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 2002. Available at:; Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST). The Talent Imperative: Diversifying America’s S&E Workforce. San Diego: BEST, 2004; G. D. Heyman, B. Martyna, and S. Bhatia. “Gender and Achievement-Related Beliefs Among Engineering Students.” Journal of Women and Minorities in S&E 8(2002):33-45.


National Science Foundation. Graduate Enrollment Increases in S&E Fields, Especially in Engineering and Computer Sciences. NSF 03-315. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2003.


A. Venezia, M. W. Kirst, and A. L. Antonio. Betraying the College Dream: How Disconnected K–12 and Postsecondary Education Systems Undermine Student Aspirations. Stanford, CA: The Bridge Project, Stanford University, 2003. Available at:


E. Babco. Trends in African American and Native American Participants in STEM Higher Education. Washington, DC: Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, 2002.


C. T. Clotfeltner, R. G. Ehrenberg, M. Getz, and J. J. Siegfried. Economic Challenges in Higher Education. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991; M. S. Teitelbaum. “Do We Need More Scientists?” The Public Interest 153(2003):40-53.

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