More science & engineering degrees granted, but look behind the figures

Schools are granting more science & engineering degrees but the figures aren't exactly what they seem.

The number of students earning science and engineering (S&E) degrees is growing. According to a study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, between 2009 and 2013, students over the age of 26 showed a 25% growth rate in S&E bachelor’s degree completion. There was a 19% growth rate in S&E degrees among traditional-age students (those age 26 or under). And over the last five years, the overall number of S&E bachelor’s degree completions has grown by 19%, compared to 9% growth for non-S&E disciplines.

So you might think from this that more students are completing engineering degrees. But a close look at the figures reveals this might not be the case: NSCRC's definition of S&E includes social sciences and psychology, as do classifications followed by the National Science Foundation.

Percent growth in BS degree completionsIt turns out that in 2012-13, the largest share of S&E bachelor’s degrees were in social sciences and psychology: 47% of the degrees completed by traditional-age students, 53% of the degrees completed by students over the age of 26. NSCRC says over the last five years, the percentage of S&E bachelor’s degrees accounted for by social sciences and psychology has dropped by 3% for traditional-age students, while increasing slightly for the older students.

Biological and agricultural sciences was the second most common S&E category for traditional-age students, accounting for 23% of their S&E bachelor’s degrees in 2012-13. Mathematics and computer science was the second most common S&E category for students over 26, accounting for 19% of their S&E bachelor’s degrees in 2012-13.

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