A survey of the class of 2003 in physics departments around the country
shows continued large increases in the number of undergraduate physics
degrees produced, a "remarkably rapid rise" in the number
of U.S. students starting physics graduate school, and, for the first
time in almost a decade, an increase in the number of physics PhDs awarded.
Information from this survey, conducted by the American Institute of
Physics's Statistical Research Center, has been compiled in the "Enrollments
and Degrees Report, 2003."
Ninety-six percent of the physics and astronomy departments contacted
responded to the survey. Those results show that, after "hitting
a four-decade low" in 1999, physics bachelor's degree production
has continued to increase sharply, climbing to 4553 bachelor's degrees
awarded in 2003. The report finds that the number of students choosing
to take an introductory physics course has also been "slowly rising,"
to about 360,000 during the 2002-2003 academic year. "Foreign citizens
and permanent residents continue to make up only a small fraction of
the undergraduate physics degrees conferred in the U.S." at only
6% of the class of 2003, the report says. Approximately half of new
physics bachelors were found to continue to graduate school immediately
after receiving their undergraduate degree, with about two-thirds remaining
in physics or astronomy. However, the report notes that "only about
1 in 7 of U.S. physics bachelor's recipients eventually receive a physics
or astronomy PhD."
A total of 3168 students entered U.S. graduate programs in physics
in 2003, the fifth consecutive increase in a row. The fraction of international
students in first-year graduate classes has dropped from 55% in 2000
to 46% in 2003, a decline which the report says is not due to a decrease
in the number of foreign students, but to "a remarkably rapid rise
in the number of entering U.S. students." From a low in 1998, the
report shows that "new U.S. student enrollments have increased
47% while new foreign student enrollments have increased only 16%."
The report also finds that "although some of the shifts in recent
incoming foreign student enrollments can be attributed to heightened
visa regulations, it should be noted that foreign student enrollments
experienced a decline prior to [September 11, 2001] and have now risen
for the students entering in the fall of 2003."
In the class of 2003, 672 students "exited physics departments
with a master's degree," according to the report. It found that
slightly over a quarter of the U.S. citizens who left a department with
a master's degree, and about three-quarters of the foreign students,
continued in a graduate program at another department.
The 1106 physics PhDs awarded in 2003 represent "a 1% increase
in physics PhD production over the class of 2002," the report says;
"this increase marks the end of 8 years of steady declines."
For the first time, in the classes of 2002 and 2003, "foreign citizens
comprised over half of the new doctorates (52%)." The report found
"a sharp increase in the proportion of new PhDs accepting postdocs,"
from 45% at the end of the last decade to 68% of the class of 2003.
The proportion of women earning undergraduate degrees in physics grew
steadily from 1994 to 2001, and leveled out about 22% in the classes
of 2002 and 2003, the report says. It also found that women made up
21% of the 2003 class of exiting master's degree recipients, and reached
"an all time high" of 18% at the doctoral level. The report
notes that "this recent sharp increase is largely a result of an
increase in the proportion of women among PhD recipients who were foreign
According to the report, "Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans
continue to be seriously under-represented among physics degree recipients."
It found that the 35 Historically Black Colleges and Universities that
have physics degree programs "were responsible for conferring 49%
of all the physics bachelor's degrees conferred to African-Americans
in the class of 2003."
The responses from astronomy departments showed that "the number
of astronomy bachelor's degrees conferred in recent years has risen
sharply to an all time him" of 325 in 2002 and 2003. The report
attributes this largely to "a sharp increase in the number of women
receiving astronomy bachelor's degrees." A total of 22 exiting
astronomy master's degrees were conferred in 2003, and 88 astronomy
PhDs. "Women and foreign citizens," the report says, "each
comprise about a quarter of the new astronomy doctorates. This is only
the second time in over a decade that astronomy PhD production has fallen
below 100 degrees." But it adds that with first-year astronomy
enrollments growing, "it is likely that PhD production will not
remain at this lower level."
AIP's Statistical Research Center produces a number of reports on enrollments,
degrees, employment, and demographics in the fields of physics and astronomy.
The report highlighted above, "Enrollments and Degrees Report,
2003," (AIP Pub. No. R-151.40) and other products of the Statistical
Research Center can be found at http://www.aip.org/statistics/.