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Women gain in science degrees but minorities lag

Women double BS degrees, triple MS degrees, quadruple doctorate degrees in science, but Hispanics and blacks earn far fewer degrees than their population numbers.
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Written by ZDNet Editors, Contributors on

As education headlines proclaim the decline of American competitiveness due to a lack of new recruits to the sciences, a new report offers some good news. Women and minorities have made big strides in obtaining science and engineering degrees, reports Inside Higher Ed.

A new biennial report, "Professional Women and Minorities," issued last week by the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, took a look at how women and minorities have done over the years in obtaining degrees in the science and engineering fields.

The report found that women have doubled the number of BS degrees earned over the last four decades. Over the same timespan, women also gained a dramatically greater percentage of master's degrees – 13.3% in 1966 versus 43.6% in 2004. At the doctorate level, the increase was especially noteworthy – 37.4 percent in 2004 compared to 8 percent in 1966.

The report also noted that women now make up 25% of the labor force in science, engineering and technology. When it comes to fields that require a high level of math, however, the improvement dipped.

"The strange thing is that at the high school level, women are prepared in math," he said. "So it's not that they are not prepared, but something is happening during enrollment and in college and they are making different choices for some reason."

Relative to women, minorities gains have not been as significant.

Hispanics make up about 14% of the population, but earned only 7.3% of the bachelor's degrees, 4.3% of the master's degrees, and 2.7% of the doctorates in science and engineering fields in 2003-4, according to the report.

African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population and earned 8.4% of the bachelor's degrees, 6.3% of the master's and 2.8% of the doctorates. American Indians comprise less than 1% of the U.S. population and earned less than 1% of degrees in science and engineering, regardless of discipline.

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