Black Students in STEM and Health Graduate Programs Increase But a Large Racial Gap Remains

New data from the National Science Foundation show that in pre-pandemic America enrollments in graduate programs in science, engineering, and health fields at U.S. academic institutions were increasing. The statistics show that enrollments in master’s degree programs in these fields had increased by 7.8 percent from 2017 to 2019. During the same period, there was a 4.2 percent increase in doctoral students in these fields and a 2.3 percent increase in postdoctoral researchers.

In 2019, there were 408,228 master’s students, 281,889 doctoral students, 66,247 postdoctoral researchers, and 30,349 doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers in science, engineering, and health fields at U.S. academic institutions.

The increase in enrollments for African Americans in these disciplines increased far faster than the rate for enrollments as a whole. Between 2017 and 2019, enrollments of Blacks in master’s degree programs in science, engineering, and health fields at U.S. academic institutions rose from 23,226 to 27,598, an increase of more than 18 percent. The number of Black students in doctoral programs in these fields was up more than 10 percent. This was more than double the rate of increase for total enrollments in doctoral programs in these fields.

Despite these gains, Blacks were still underrepresented in graduate programs in these fields. In 2019, Blacks made up 6.8 percent of all enrollees in master’s degree programs in science, engineering, and health fields at U.S. academic institutions. They were 3.7 percent of all doctoral students in these fields and just 1.6 percent of postdoctoral researchers.


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