I found these very interesting links about the declining number of American PhD degree holders. It seems like Americans do not need PhD degrees anymore. Is this why America is luring foreigners into taking graduate studies? Hundreds of foreign students, if not thousands, come to the U.S. every year and avail of financial assistance hoping to earn graduate degrees. Why is that so? Why would a young American hate science and brush aside the big opportunity of having a PhD degree?

The short answer is this: It doesn’t pay! Here are some statistics between 1993 and 2001 from nsf.gov:

– The number of U.S. citizens enrolled in graduate science and engineering (S&E) programs fell 10 percent

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

– The number of engineering PhDs 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

It seems to me that the true reason why Americans hesitate to study science and engineering is because pursuing an advanced degree in these fields is a bad investment.

For PhDs for example, the salary premium is not high enough to compensate for the five or more years of foregoing an industry salary while pursuing graduate study. For U.S. citizens a doctorate in science or engineering causes a net lifetime LOSS in earnings. For foreigners, of course, an American S&E degree remains attractive — relative to their options at home. (This last sentence is VERY VERY TRUE!)

Edwin S. Rubenstein, President of ESR Research Economic Consultants, reacted: “Allowing the importation of cheaper foreign workers is simply a form of corporate welfare for the high-tech industry—and it’s a solution that, by flooding the S&E market and discouraging potential native-born students, makes the problem worse.”

Here is another article from Daniel S. Greenberg, who said:

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 PhD 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 average around $35,000 a year, without benefits.

I want to highlight this too:

For scientifically talented foreign students, especially from developing countries, a scientific career based on training in the United States is a wondrously appealing opportunity, usually financed by their home countries in the hope that they will bring back the benefits of science and technology. In droves, however, they choose to make their careers in the United States.

The alarmists of scientific shortage have been warning for decades that a homeward exodus of foreign scientists will someday occur. But contrary to this expectation, the “stay” rates of foreign doctoral students have actually increased, according to the National Science Foundation, which reports that 71 percent of foreign citizens who received their PhDs in 1999 were still in the United States two years later — up from 49 percent in 1987.

The foreign-born have always played a major role in American science and technology — indispensably so in the development of the atomic bomb and the space program.

William J Broad in his New York Times article “US Is Losing Its Dominance in the Sciences” had this to say:

A more concrete decline can be seen in published research. Physical Review, a series of top physics journals, recently tracked a reversal in which American papers, in two decades, fell from the most to a minority. Last year the total was just 29 percent, down from 61 percent in 1983.

Science analysts say Asia’s push for excellence promises to be even more challenging.

Will the numbers of American PhD degree holders continue to decline? (Shhh, just between you and me…I hope it will, so all of us foreign students can steal those degrees away from them.)