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Chemistry Grads Continue Gains

Bachelor's degrees jump, extending a five-year trend

by David J. Hanson
December 15, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 50

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

The number of new chemistry Ph.D. graduates jumped similarly, to 2,462 for 2006–07 from 2,321 for 2005–06. The 6.1% rise is also a record. Master's degrees for 2006–07 increased, too, totaling 2,042. That's a 2.7% rise from 2005–06 and just a few graduates short of the record 2,098 master's degrees conferred in 1995–96.

The data show a four- to five-year trend in rising numbers of chemistry graduates that show little sign of abating. Bachelor's degrees dropped to just 9,923 in 2001–02 but have gained by nearly 3,000 since then, an increase of 30%. Likewise, Ph.D. degrees have risen from a recent low of 1,955 in 2001–02 to 2,462 in 2006–07, up by 507 or an increase of 26% during that period.

The 2,042 master's degrees in 2006–07 are just shy of the 1995–96 record, but they do represent an increase of 26.5%, or 428 degrees, over the low number reported in 2002–03.

Trends in chemical engineering graduates are more difficult to see. The numbers of degrees reported for 2006–07 fell slightly at all levels, a decline that goes against the upward trend for master's and Ph.D. degrees over the past few years. The number of bachelor's degrees in chemical engineering fell from 4,523 in 2005–06 to 4,456 in 2006–07, but that is still higher than the 4,418 bachelor's degrees reported in 2004–05. One explanation for the lower numbers of chemical engineering degrees is that fewer institutions reported to CPT this year, compared with 2005–06.

These are just a few of the findings in the latest report on graduate statistics in chemistry and chemical engineering from the ACS Committee on Professional Training (CPT). Under the direction of Cathy A. Nelson since 1992, the society's Office of Professional Training collects the reports. The office's technology specialist, Gary Woods, has compiled the data for the past several years.

Since 1941, CPT's primary function has been to assess, approve, and monitor undergraduate chemistry programs. ACS does not approve master's or doctoral programs. Colleges and universities apply to ACS for the society's approval and then must report annually to CPT all the degrees they award at all three degree levels. For the 2006–07 reporting year, 642 departments have ACS-approved bachelor's degree programs. Of course, some schools with chemistry departments have not applied for ACS approval, but CPT estimates that more than 90% of bachelor's degrees in chemistry come from colleges and universities that offer programs approved by ACS.

CPT COLLECTS data from chemical engineering departments that are accredited by ABET Inc., formerly the Accreditation Board of Engineering & Technology. These departments are not required to respond to the CPT survey, but most of them do. For 2006–07, 146 of 154 chemical engineering departments responded.

The school-by-school data for the 2006–07 chemistry and chemical engineering graduates are listed in a table beginning on page 43. The CPT data are also available at

The bachelor's degrees that CPT reports are of two types: certified and noncertified. This is a determination made by the head of an ACS-approved department and not by ACS. However, graduates awarded certified bachelor's degrees are qualified for immediate full membership in ACS, whereas those with noncertified degrees are eligible for full society membership only after three years of professional experience or acquisition of a higher degree in chemical science. The requirements will change in January 2009 (C&EN, Nov. 17, page 7).

Policies on certification of degrees vary considerably among chemistry departments. For instance, all 157 degrees from the University of Texas, Austin, in 2006–07 were certified. In contrast, top-producer University of Washington awarded 253 bachelor's degrees, but only 16 of them were certified.

There has been a long, slow decline in the proportion of certified degrees awarded each year. From a high of just over 42% in 1991–92, the percentage has steadily dropped to 35% in 2006–07.

Enrollment of students in chemistry graduate programs remained high last year, but CPT recorded a slight drop in both first-year master's and doctoral students. For master's programs, full-time enrollment fell about 4% to 1,345 students, while part-time master's students rose 1.5% to 606 students. Part-time graduate enrollment has been down generally over the past several years.

Chemistry doctoral enrollment dipped a bit for first-year students, from 3,859 in 2005–06 to 3,795 in 2006–07, but the total number of full-time doctoral students continued the long-term upward trend, gaining 2% to 18,576 students. Part-time enrollments in 2006–07 slipped to 823 from 948 the year before. CPT received reports of doctoral enrollments from 200 departments for 2006–07, the largest number ever.

the number of women getting chemistry degrees at all levels continues to rise, as it has for most of the past decade. Bachelor's degrees awarded to women in 2006–07 rose 2% compared with the previous year to 6,416 and master's degrees rose 2% to total 984. The biggest jump was in the number of doctorates awarded, a more than 9% increase to 908 degrees. Women received just under 37% of all chemistry doctorates awarded last year.

The ranking of the top producers of chemistry graduates has changed from previous years' rankings. For the first time in several years, the University of California, Los Angeles, did not award the greatest number of bachelor's degrees. That distinction went to the University of Washington, with 253 bachelor's degrees, compared with UCLA's 220. The University of Illinois, Chicago, continues to ascend the list of schools awarding bachelor's degrees, moving into number nine from 21 in 2005–06. It gave out 101 bachelor's degrees, up from 68 in 2005–06 and a more than 150% increase from the 39 degrees it conferred in 2003–04.

UC San Diego awarded the most chemistry master's degrees for 2006–07, with 69 degrees. That is far above the number two school, Cornell University, which reported 42.

UC Berkeley gave the greatest number of chemistry Ph.D.s in 2006–07, with 74 degrees. Other top producers of Ph.D.s shifted a lot from their positions in previous years. Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, tied for second with 48 doctorates each, and Purdue University ranked fourth with 47. The biggest drop in number of Ph.D. graduates came from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, which ranked 20th with 31 doctorates, compared with 55 doctorates in 2005–06 and a number two ranking.

For chemical engineering, Pennsylvania State University had the greatest number of bachelor's degrees with 113, followed by Georgia Institute of Technology with 108. One interesting change is that the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, reported only 67 chemical engineering bachelor's degrees for 2006–07 after leading the 2005–06 list with 119.

Illinois Institute of Technology had the most graduates with master's degrees in chemical engineering last year with 37, down slightly from its high of 45 reported in 2005–06. Lamar University graduated the second highest number of chemical engineering master's with 34.

Top producers of chemical engineering doctorates tend to be consistent. For 2006–07, Massachusetts Institute of Technology led the pack with 48 Ph.D.s, followed by the University of Texas, Austin, with 31. The biggest change in the top 10 was the University of Florida, which reported 25 chemical engineering Ph.D.s in 2006–07 after reporting only 11 in 2005–06.


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