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Computing Research News

January 2005     Vol. 17/No. 1


CRA Taulbee Trends: U.S. CS Ph.D. Production and Graduate Enrollment

By Jay Vegso


CRA publishes articles on trends in data from its Taulbee Survey of Ph.D-granting Computer Science (CS) and Computer Engineering (CE) departments in the United States and Canada. Previous articles and updated data on female students and faculty, the ethnic background of Ph.D. students, and the early employment of graduating doctorates are available online (

This article reports on Ph.D. production and graduate enrollments among CS departments in the United States. CRA’s survey response rates are more consistent for U.S. CS departments than for U.S. CE departments and those in Canada.

After peaking at between 1,000 and 1,100 graduates per year in the early- and mid-1990s, the number of doctorates granted annually by CS departments declined and has now stabilized at around 800 (Figure 1). As long as students complete their doctorates, this number appears likely to increase in the coming decade.



The number of students passing their qualifying exams has increased significantly in the past two years. Likewise, total enrollment has increased steadily, and the number of new students entering doctoral programs each fall has grown for the past decade (Figure 2).



Data from the Taulbee Survey can also be compared to those reported by the National Science Foundation's Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. Although it is not possible to disaggregate Master's degree and Ph.D. enrollments, the trends are interesting. In Figure 3, the total number of enrolled CS graduate students and the sub-division of full-time, first-time CS graduate students are plotted using the left scale. The right scale shows these figures as a percentage of overall S&E enrollments in these two categories. As can be seen, CS has enjoyed several years of healthy growth both in terms of the number of students enrolled and the field's popularity relative to other disciplines.



Although these data clearly indicate that CS degree production will continue to expand, Figure 3 also suggests the possibility of a slowdown in growth. When viewed in comparison to other fields, the proportions of students entering and staying in CS have leveled off or declined since 2001. This also is reflected in the leveling off in the number of new Ph.D. students reported in the 2002/2003 Taulbee Survey (Figure 2).

There is a recurring debate about whether U.S. programs produce 'enough' S&E degrees. In large part, this is because it is difficult to estimate future workforce demand. A factor that is cited frequently is the enrollment of foreigners in U.S. programs. Non-U.S. citizens account for about half of the CS Ph.D. and Master's degrees granted each year, about 40 percent of S&E Ph.D.s, and 25 percent of S&E Master's degrees. Most of these students stay: among those who received doctorates in Math and Computer Sciences in 1999, 75 percent were in the United States in 2001. These stay rates have increased over time.

About 70 percent of full-time, first-time graduate enrollments in CS were foreigners in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, however, their representation dropped to 60 percent, with a 15 percent drop in numbers (to 5,469). This drop is mirrored by findings from the 2004 IIE Open Doors report. After double-digit growth in the number of international students enrolled in U.S. Math and CS programs in 2000/2001 and 2001/2002, their numbers dropped by 6.3 percent in 2002/2003 and a further 5.8 percent in 2003/2004. Among all disciplines, 2003/2004 saw the first absolute decline in foreign enrollments since the early 1970s.

It is too early to tell whether the decline in the number of international students coming to study in the United States is more than a brief phenomenon. Yet, with CS programs making slow headway in recruiting substantial numbers of U.S. women and underrepresented minorities, a continued slowdown would have a significant impact on graduate degree production.

Works Cited

National Science Foundation, Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (Graduate Student Survey):
Institute of International Education, Open Doors 2004:


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