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What's up, Doc? Not the number of science Ph.D.s

A survey shows that the number of doctoral degrees awarded in U.S. science and engineering programs continues to drop. Women, however, are earning a growing share.

The number of doctoral degrees awarded in U.S. science and engineering programs continues to drop, but women are earning a growing share of them, according to survey results published Thursday by the National Science Foundation.

About 24,550 science and engineering doctorates were earned by students attending U.S. universities in 2002, down from slightly more than 25,500 in 2001, according to the NSF, a federal agency that supports science and engineering research.

Women are earning a larger portion of the science and engineering diplomas, according to the survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago and partly funded by the NSF. Women received 37.3 percent of science and engineering doctorates in 2002, up from 36.5 percent in 2001. "The growing participation of women in (science and engineering) fields remained strong," Tom Hoffer, senior research scientist at NORC, said in a statement.

The number of doctoral degrees conferred in most other fields remained roughly the same last year, and has hovered around 15,400 annually since 1998, the NSF said.

The most recent downturn in science and engineering doctorates began after a 27,300 peak in 1998, the NSF said.

Computer science doctorates declined in 2002, continuing a steady slope downward since 1995, according to the NSF. But the number appears to be leveling off, the NSF said.

A sizable chunk of the science and engineering doctorates went to non-U.S. citizens, according to the NSF. Of 23,152 doctorates awarded to students whose citizenship was known, 8,839 went to non-U.S. citizens. In engineering alone, foreign-born persons receiving doctoral degrees last year represented more than 60 percent of the total, according to the NSF. Between 1993 and 2002, foreign citizens earned just more than 57 percent of all engineering doctorates, the NSF said.

The number of research doctoral degrees in all fields earned by students attending U.S. universities fell by 2 percent last year, dipping under 40,000, according to the NSF. Overall, 413 universities across the United States and Puerto Rico awarded 39,955 doctorates, the NSF said.