I was browsing for some graduate study links online and found an interesting post from The Chronicle about the declining number of American Ph.D. degree holders. What is the trend? The U.S. is luring foreigners into taking graduate studies. You most likely notice it in action with all the foreign students eagerly wanting to get their graduate degrees in SDSU. But why the decline? Why would a young American hate science and brush aside the big opportunity of having a Ph.D. degree?

The answer is simple: it does not pay! Here are some statistics between 1993 and 2001 as gathered by E. Rubenstein, a financial analyst, economics journalist and consultant:

• The number of U.S. citizens enrolled in graduate science and engineering programs fell 10 percent

• The number of foreign citizens enrolled in graduate science and engineering programs rose 26 percent

• The number of engineering Ph.D.s awarded to U.S. citizens rose from 1,887 in 1987 to 3,516 in 1996. But in 2002, only 1,890 engineering Ph.D.s were awarded to U.S. citizens

• Non-citizens received 32 percent of all science Ph.D.s awarded in 2002, up from 24 percent in 1987

• Non-citizens received 61 percent of engineering Ph.D.s awarded in 2002, up from 55 percent in 1987

The current data suggests that the new predictions may fare no better than earlier ones.

I could see clearly the real reason why Americans hesitate to study science and engineering – pursuing an advanced degree is a bad investment! A Ph.D. for instance: their wage premium while pursuing graduate study is not high enough to compensate for the five years of foregoing an industry salary.

According to Daniel S. Greenberg, an author and writer at The Washington Post, the failure of more Americans to pursue science studies can in part be attributed to poor high school and college programs for nurturing scientific talent. But the much-lamented turn away from science also reflects sound economic calculation. The post-college route to a science Ph.D. usually takes five to seven years. Postdoctoral fellowships, now a commonplace requirement for most academic and many industrial jobs, run for two to three years. Postdoctoral wages only average around $35,000 a year, without benefits. With this remuneration in mind, for Americans, pursuing a doctorate in science or engineering could initiate a net lifetime financial damage.

For foreigners, on the other hand, an American science or engineering degree remains attractive, relative to their options at home. Ask any scientifically talented foreign student from a developing country, and you would get an answer that a career obtained in the United States is a wondrously tempting opportunity. This is why foreign students come in droves and prefer to make their careers in the United States.

However, the U.S. may not have to worry too much in this so-called crisis, as those foreign citizens who received their Ph.D.s’ are more likely to stay in the U.S., according to the National Science Foundation report. Therefore, they still play a major role in the American science and technology development.

There may be a decline or shortage of American Ph.D.s, but the U.S. research or scientific enterprise is still flourishing as seen in the eyes of the foreign nationals. I think Americans should be glad of this mixture of foreign and homegrown talents on their lands. The crisis may not sound good, but at least you make the future of these foreign students from third-world countries brighter. Just think of that.

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