Gains In Chemistry Grads Persist | November 23, 2009 Issue - Vol. 87 Issue 47 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 47 | pp. 38-48
Issue Date: November 23, 2009

Gains In Chemistry Grads Persist

Strong trend of rising bachelor’s degrees continues, graduate awards slow
Department: ACS News, Education
Keywords: graduates, Professional Training, bachelor’s degree
Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

U.S. universities and colleges with chemistry programs approved by the American Chemical Society Committee on Professional Training (CPT) conferred a record high of nearly 14,000 bachelor’s degrees in chemistry during the 2007–08 academic year. The number of chemistry master’s degrees awarded by these schools rose slightly during the same period, but the number of chemistry Ph.D.s fell more than 4% from a 2006–07 peak. Chemical engineering bachelor’s degrees and Ph.D.s rose in 2007–08, while chemical engineering master’s degrees fell a bit.

These are the key findings in the latest report of graduates submitted by the 647 schools with ACS-approved chemistry bachelor’s programs. In 2007–08, they granted 13,921 bachelor’s degrees, an 8.0% increase from the previous academic year. Chemistry departments at 307 schools, the same number that reported in 2006–07, awarded 2,051 master’s degrees in chemistry, up 0.4% from the previous year. And 200 institutions, again the same number as in 2006–07, reported granting 2,362 new chemistry Ph.D.s., down 4.1% from the previously reported high of 2,462 doctorates given in 2006–07.

The data for chemical engineering graduates are similar. The total of 4,708 bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering represents a significant 5.7% rise from the prior year. Master’s degrees in chemical engineering slid 1.7% from 952 to 936, but 885 Ph.D. degrees were awarded in 2007–08, a rise of 0.8% compared with 878 in 2006–07 and just shy of the record 890 in 2005–06.

The increase in chemistry bachelor’s degrees maintains a six-year trend that seems to be growing stronger. From a recent low of just 9,923 bachelor degrees in 2001–02, the yearly total has grown by 40.3%, or about 7% per year.

Trends in graduate degrees are less dramatic. Master’s degrees in chemistry have been rather stagnant for a decade, hovering around 2,000 degrees per year, with a low of 1,614 in 2003. The number of chemistry Ph.D. degrees had also languished at around 2,000 until 2006, when it began a slow rise.

For chemical engineering, the nearly 6% increase in bachelor’s degrees combined with a jump in Ph.D. degrees in 2005–06 may indicate increasing interest in a degree that has always led to nearly full employment at wages considerably higher than corresponding chemistry degrees (C&EN, Nov. 3, 2008, page 44).

These data come from the latest report on degrees granted in chemistry and chemical engineering from CPT. Under the direction of Cathy A. Nelson since 1992, the society’s Office of Professional Training collects the reports from ACS-approved colleges and universities across the U.S. The office’s technology specialist, Gary Woods, has compiled the data for the past several years.

Established by the society in 1936, CPT assesses, approves, and monitors undergraduate chemistry programs. ACS does not approve master’s or doctoral programs. College and university chemistry departments apply to ACS for approval of their bachelor’s programs. To be approved, the programs are evaluated against specific criteria established by the committee. Departments with approved chemistry programs must report annually to CPT all the degrees they award at all three degree levels. For the 2007–08 reporting year, 647 departments had approved bachelor’s degree programs.

Of course, some schools with chemistry departments have not applied to ACS to have their programs approved; however, CPT estimates that more than 90% of bachelor’s degrees in chemistry come from colleges and universities that offer programs approved by ACS. CPT also uses data from chemical engineering departments that are accredited by ABET Inc., formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology. These departments are not required to respond to CPT surveys, but most of them do. For 2007–08, 149 out of 154 chemical engineering departments responded, Nelson says.

School-by-school data for 2007–08 chemistry and chemical engineering graduates are listed in a table beginning on page 42; they are also available at

Two types of bachelor’s degrees are reported: ACS-certified and noncertified. The determination of how many degrees granted by a chemistry department are ACS-certified versus noncertified is made by the head of the chemistry departments and not by ACS.

Before January of this year, only graduates with an ACS-certified bachelor’s degree were qualified for immediate full membership in ACS. Those without a certified bachelor’s degree had to have three years of professional experience in chemistry or a higher degree in a chemical science to be full members. In January, however, the society opened full membership to anyone with an associate’s or a bachelor’s chemistry degree, certified or not (C&EN, May 5, 2008, page 50).

Chemistry department policies on ACS certification vary considerably among colleges and universities. For example, the University of Washington was the top producer of bachelor’s degrees in chemistry last year, awarding 256 degrees, but just 15 of those were ACS-certified. At the University of Texas, Austin, on the other hand, 200 bachelor’s degrees in chemistry were conferred, and all of them were ACS-certified.

According to Nelson, the committee does not anticipate any change in the proportion of students pursuing certified degrees because of the changed requirements for ACS membership. Most students pursue a certified degree because it is a more demanding course of study, she says. Even so, there has been a long, slow decline in the proportion of certified degrees relative to total chemistry bachelor’s degrees awarded. From a high of about 43% certified in 1991–92, the percentage has dropped to 35% in 2007–08, the same as it was in 2006–07.

The steady upswing of bachelor’s degrees in chemistry is reflected in the similar rise in enrollments in chemistry Ph.D. programs, according to CPT. First-year chemistry doctoral students increased to 3,936 at the start of the 2007–08 academic year, a 3.7% gain from 3,795 the previous year. The total number of full-time Ph.D. students rose a modest 0.4% as a result, to 18,656.

Enrollments in chemistry programs offering master’s degrees, however, have flattened over the past four years. CPT reports that the number of first-year master’s students rose slightly last year, to 563. But that did not make up for the 7.8% loss the year before. The total number of chemistry master’s students did rise in 2007, reaching 1,462, an 8.7% gain from 2006 numbers.

Women continue their strong presence in the chemical sciences, but the rate of increase in the percentage of women receiving degrees in chemistry has leveled off. Women receive almost exactly half—49.9%—of all bachelor’s degrees in chemistry, a proportion that has changed little over the past six years. The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to women rose to 6,942 in 2007–08, a significant 8.2% jump over 2006–07. In 2007–08, the fourth year that the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded to men increased after falling for a number of years, the number of men receiving bachelor’s degrees rose 7.8% to 6,979 from 6,472 in 2006–07.

Doctorates were awarded to 853 women in 2007–08, a decline of 55, or 6.1%, from 2006–07. Women received 36.1% of all chemistry Ph.D.s in 2007–08, marking the first time since 2002–03 that both the number and the percentage of women getting Ph.D.s decreased.

The list of colleges and universities producing the most chemistry graduates shifts from year to year, but the same schools always seem to stay near the top. The University of Washington, which awarded the most bachelor’s chemistry degrees in 2006–07, did the same in 2007–08, awarding 256 degrees. The four other schools in the top five in 2006–07 remained there in 2007–08. Temple University made the largest jump in 2007–08 among the top-producing schools, awarding a total of 105 bachelor’s degrees and moving from 20th place to sixth. New schools on the most-productive list include the University of Oklahoma, with 74 bachelor’s degrees awarded; City University of New York, Hunter College, with 73 bachelor’s degrees; and Emory University, with 73.

The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, awarded the most master’s degrees in chemistry in 2008, with 43. The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, was second, with 40 master’s degrees, a big increase for a school that was not even among the top 25 in the previous year.

Repeating as the top producer of chemistry Ph.D’s in 2007–08 is the University of California, Berkeley, with 75 doctoral graduates, followed by Purdue University, with 50; and the University of Florida, with 47. New schools among the top 25 in this category include Cornell University, Princeton University, and Columbia University.

For chemical engineering, the University of Texas, Austin, awarded the most bachelor’s degrees in 2007–08, with 109, followed by the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, with 103, a school that wasn’t on the list last year but is usually a top producer.

Lamar University awarded the most master’s degrees in chemical engineering in 2007–08, with 34 degrees. In second and third place were Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with 30 degrees, and the University of Southern California, with 29.

Georgia Institute of Technology graduated the most Ph.D. chemical engineers in 2007–08, with 31 doctorates awarded. MIT was a close second, with 30. Breaking into the top-producers list for chemical engineers were the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which awarded 23 degrees; Northwestern University, which awarded 20; and Carnegie Mellon University, which awarded 18.


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