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Chemistry Grads Decline in 2002

March 29, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 13

There were somewhat fewer chemistry graduates in 2002 than there had been in 2001. This was a continuation of a downward drift from the record high numbers of new graduates in the 1990s. Despite the declines, however, the numbers of chemistry graduates during the 2001–02 academic year were still at, or a little higher than, the long-term medians at all three degree levels.

These are the major quantitative findings from the latest annual report of the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Professional Training (CPT).

Also of note is that in 2002, women were—for the first time ever—the majority in a nationwide chemistry graduating class as measured by CPT, with 4,965 bachelor’s degrees compared with 4,958 for men. This 50.04% share for women extended a prolonged and steady climb from 17.8% in 1972, 30.5% in 1982, 40.0% in 1992, and 47.6% for the 2000–01 academic year. Women also earned 45.8% of the 1,701 chemistry master’s degrees awarded in 2002 and 33.2% of the 1,955 Ph.D.s.

CPT is charged with examining, approving, and monitoring undergraduate chemistry programs. Approved departments are required to report to the committee the number of degrees they award each year at all three degree levels. The committee does not approve or accredit master’s or Ph.D. programs.

Of the 623 schools with approved undergraduate programs in 2002, 313 also had master’s programs and 192 had doctoral programs. Such advanced degree programs don’t all produce graduates every year.

For the bachelor’s programs, the median number of graduates in 2002 was 11 and the average, 16. For the schools that had master’s graduates in 2002, the median was five and the average, six. For schools with 2002 Ph.D. graduates, the median was eight and the average, 11.

Bachelor’s degrees are of two types, certified and uncertified. The percentage of graduates with certified degrees has been gradually declining. It was 43.3% in 1972 and 37.4% for 2002.

Those with a certified degree have completed a curriculum that satisfies the requirements spelled out by ACS. They are immediately eligible for full society membership. Those with noncertified degrees can become associate members of ACS on graduation and are eligible to become full members after either three years of professional experience or acquisition of a higher degree in a chemical science.

CPT also gathers data annually on chemical engineering graduates from departments accredited by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology. These data are not exhaustive because schools are not required to supply data to CPT.

Complete school-by-school data on both chemistry and chemical engineering graduates are presented in a table at the end of this article and on the Web at

CPT’s annual data are for all graduates from the schools it approves, regardless of subdiscipline. They can differ somewhat from data on bachelor’s and master’s chemistry graduates gathered annually by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and data on Ph.D. chemistry graduates compiled by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

NCES and NSF data are counts of graduates in the classic chemistry subdisciplines only—inorganic, organic, and the like. For instance, they do not include degrees reported as being in biochemistry or materials science. NCES’s bachelor’s count also includes graduates from several hundred schools with chemistry departments that are too small to meet ACS’s criteria for approval.

CPT data trace how volatile the number of new bachelor’s degree chemists has been over the years. After a then-high of 10,453 in 1981, it fell to 7,650 in 1990. After that, it moved up steadily to a new high of 11,219 in 1998 before declining again to 9,923 in 2002.

Master’s degrees show a somewhat similar pattern, with a high of 2,019 in 1972 and a low of 1,569 in 1983. Then came a new high of 2,098 in 1996 followed by the current decline to 1,701 in 2002. For Ph.D.s, a high of 2,097 in 1971 preceded a sharp dip to 1,532 in both 1978 and 1979. Then came an upswing to about 2,200 in 1991, where it hovered until 1998 before slipping to 1,955 for 2002.

For the 30-year span from 1972 to 2002, the median number of bachelor’s graduates each year was 9,866. For master’s, the median was the 2002 count of 1,701, and for Ph.D.s, it was 1,936. The average number of new graduates over these years was 9,519 bachelor’s, 1,764 master’s, and 1,912 Ph.D.s—all still quite close to the 2002 levels.

The three largest producers of bachelor’s graduates in 2002 were the same as in 2001. The University of California, Los Angeles, was first, followed by the University of Washington and the University of Texas, Austin. Of the 27 schools that made the top 25 list in 2002—three tied for 25th place—21 had made the 2001 list and two more were within one of the 2001 cutoff.

For Ph.D.s, the University of California, Berkeley, was the largest producer in 2002 with 62, as it had been in 2001 with 60. California schools claimed seven of the spots on the top 25 (actually top 26) ranking of Ph.D. producers in 2002. Four schools tied for 23rd place.
The release of this report by CPT on 2002 graduates is the penultimate step in the committee’s drive to catch up from the long hiatus brought on by a transfer to electronic data handling that started

in the late 1990s. Last August, the committee released five years of data: 1997 through 2001 (C&EN, Aug. 25, 2003, page 46).

Data on 2003 graduates should be available within a few months. This will put CPT back on its traditional schedule of releasing its report during the April or May following the close of the academic year being reported.

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