Once Again, a Decline in Doctoral Degree Awards to African Americans
After 20 years of almost uninterrupted progress, the number of blacks earning doctoral degrees has declined for the second year in a row.
In 2004, 1,869 African Americans were awarded doctoral degrees at U.S. universities. This was the highest number ever recorded.
But a year later in 2005 there was a 10 percent reduction in doctoral awards for blacks. This was only the third decline in the past 20 years. Now new data released by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago shows that in 2006 the number of black doctorates has declined once again. This year the decline was slight, from 1,688 in 2005 to 1,659 in 2006. This is a drop of 1.7 percent.
In 2004 blacks earned 7.1 percent of all doctorates awarded in the United States. In 2006 the percentage of all doctorates awarded to blacks dropped to 6.2 percent.
Despite the setback of the past two years, the overall progress in the past two decades has been rock solid. In 1987 only 787 African Americans earned doctorates. This year’s total of 1,659 doctorates is more than double the number earned by African Americans in 1987. In 1990 the black share of all doctoral awards was 3.6 percent. That has now grown to 6.2 percent, a showing of significant progress in a relatively short period of time of 17 years.
Although African Americans have made solid progress in doctoral awards, much remains to be achieved. African Americans are nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population. Therefore, black doctoral awards still amount to less than one half the level that would occur were racial parity to prevail.
Major Shortfalls in the Natural Sciences
The bad news is that there continue to be wide differences among blacks and whites in terms of the academic fields in which they earn doctorates. For instance, 36.5 percent of all doctorates awarded to African Americans in 2006 were in the field of education. In contrast, only 17.8 percent of doctorates earned by whites were in this field. This large percentage of all African-American doctorates in the field of education has been the case for decades with only minor fluctuations.
Arthur Levine, president of the Teachers College at Columbia University, has proposed that Ed.D. degrees be abolished and be replaced with a master’s degree in educational administration. He believes that people who aspire to be school superintendents or college administrators are wasting their time doing a research dissertation on a topic that will have little or no bearing on the job that they plan to hold. Should the Levine view prevail, the black percentage of all doctoral awards would fall dramatically. If we eliminate educational doctorates from the 2006 statistics, we find that blacks earned only 4.8 percent of all doctorates in fields other than education.
Whites continue to be far more likely than blacks to earn doctorates in the natural sciences. In 2006, 13.1 percent of doctorates awarded to whites were in the physical sciences. This is nearly triple the percentage for African Americans, which stood at 4.4 percent in 2006.
The very large racial Ph.D. gap in the natural sciences is striking when we examine black Ph.D. awards in specific disciplines. African Americans earned only 16 doctorates in mathematics. This was only 1.2 percent of all doctorates awarded in the field by U.S. universities.
In a major weakness, blacks earned only 12 degrees, or about 0.9 percent, of the more than 1,300 doctorates in physics. In computer science, blacks won 1 percent of all Ph.D. awards. In chemistry, only 1.2 percent of Ph.D.s went to blacks. In 2006, 133 African Americans were awarded a Ph.D. in the biological sciences. But they were only 2.0 percent of all doctorates awarded in the discipline.
The field of engineering also shows serious weakness in black doctoral student participation. Blacks trail whites by a large margin in Ph.D.s in engineering. In 2006, 7.7 percent of all white doctorates were earned in the field of engineering. For African Americans, only 5.4 percent of all their doctorates were in engineering. In 2006 blacks earned a mere 1.2 percent of all engineering Ph.D.s. The shortfall in engineering is serious because engineering is a field in which hundreds of thousands of Americans achieve high-income status and middle- to upper-social status.
In 2005 JBHE reported that there were 2,275 doctorates awarded by universities in the United States in the fields of geometry, computing theory and practice, astronomy, meteorology, theoretical chemistry, geochemistry, geophysics and seismology, paleontology, mineralogy and petrology, stratigraphy and sedimentation, geomorphology and glacial geology, acoustics, elementary particle physics, biophysics, nuclear physics, plasma/fusion physics, polymer physics, hydrology and water resources, oceanography, petroleum engineering, polymer and plastics engineering, communications engineering, engineering mechanics, ceramic science engineering, metallurgical engineering, agricultural engineering, engineering physics, mining and mineral engineering, ocean engineering, animal breeding, animal nutrition, agricultural plant breeding, plant pathology, horticultural science, fishing and fisheries science, forest science and biology, forest resources management, wildlife/range management, biotechnology, bacteriology, plant genetics, plant pathology biology, plant physiology, botany, anatomy, entomology, zoology, and veterinary medicine. Not one of these 2,275 doctoral degrees went to an African American.
This year, the Survey of Earned Doctorates does not release data by race in a particular field if there are fewer than five recipients of a doctorate in any particular racial or ethnic group. The report states simply that the “data is suppressed to avoid disclosure or confidential information.”
The Gender Gap in Black Ph.D. Awards
As is the case in almost every measure of African-American achievement in higher education, black women have come to hold a large lead in doctoral awards. As recently as 1977 black women earned only 38.7 percent of all doctorates awarded to African Americans. By 2000 black women earned 65.7 percent of all doctorates awarded to African Americans. There have been only minor fluctuations since the beginning of the century. In 2006 black women earned 65 percent of all doctorates awarded to African Americans.
Since 1990 African-American women have increased their number of Ph.D. awards from 550 to 1,079. This is an increase of 96 percent. In contrast, the number of Ph.D. awards to African-American men increased from 351 in 1990 to 580. This is a rise of 65.5 percent.
Doctorates Awarded by Historically Black Universities
In 2006 historically black colleges and universities awarded 376 doctorates to recipients of all races. This was a slight increase over the 367 doctorates awarded by black universities in 2005.
In 2006 Howard University awarded 96 doctorates, the most of any historically black university. The Howard total was down slightly from a year ago. Tennessee State University awarded 48 doctoral degrees in 2006. This ranked the university in second place among historically black institutions. Morgan State University awarded 40 doctorates in 2006. This was a 60 percent increase from the previous year. Jackson State University and Clark Atlanta University each awarded more than 30 doctorates in 2006. Florida A&M University, Bowie State University, South Carolina State University, Southern University, North Carolina A&T State University, and Texas Southern University were the only other black universities to award at least 10 doctorates in 2006.
Other Racial Disparities in Ph.D. Awards
Here is further information on doctoral awards to blacks contained in the most recent survey on earned doctorates:
• The average age of a black Ph.D. recipient in 2006 was 36.7 compared to 33.4 for all Americans.
For many observers the statistics on black doctorates seem of marginal importance. Yet they are a good indicator of black progress in achieving the educational credentials required for teaching positions at our major colleges and universities. It is likely, too, that at such time as blacks achieve Ph.D. parity, or near parity, with whites in all academic disciplines, that day will also mark the arrival of overall racial equality in the United States.