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to orienting master’s-level degree programs toward scientific or technical skills needed in the US workforce.


Graduate education in the United States is widely seen as the best in the world. America’s universities produce most of the scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who will maintain our preeminence in science and technology (see Figure HE-4). They educate the college faculty and K–12 teachers who will critically influence public support for scientific and technological endeavors And the intensive research experiences that are at the heart of graduate education at the doctoral level produce much of the new knowledge that drives scientific and technological progress.

Students from many nations travel to the United States to enroll in science, engineering, and mathematics graduate programs and to serve as postdoctoral fellows. For example, international students account for nearly half of all graduate enrollments in engineering and computer science. The presence of large numbers of international students in US graduate schools has both positive and negative consequences.5 These students enhance the intellectual and cultural environments of the programs in which they are enrolled. Many remain in the United States after their training is finished and contribute substantially to our scientific and technological enterprise. However, the large numbers of foreign students in US graduate schools may have the effect of discouraging US students from pursuing this educational pathway because the rapidly increasing number of students has diminished the relative rewards of becoming a scientist or engineer.6 US colleges and universities have an important role to play in encouraging more US students to pursue graduate education in science, engineering, and mathematics.

The federal government helps support graduate education through research assistantships funded through federal research project grants, fellowship and traineeship programs, and student loans (see Figure HE-5). The availability, level, and timing of this funding have implications for determining who can pursue a graduate education and how long it will take to complete that education. Also, the type of support—whether a research assistantship, teaching assistantship, traineeship, or fellowship—affects the content of graduate education and the kinds of skills one learns during graduate school.


NAS/NAE/IOM. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1995.


R. E. Gomory and H. T. Shapiro. “Globalization: Causes and Effects.” Issues in Science and Technology (Summer 2003):18-20.

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