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Just the Stats: Top 100 Popular Disciplines By Race, Gender

As encouraging as the numbers of minorities earning advanced degrees may have been, gender differences across racial lines continue to persist at the master’s and doctoral levels. In the print edition of the Top 100 Graduate Degree Producers, released July 12, Diverse reviews the increase and decrease in minority students at the graduate level. The new online tables look at the popularity of various disciplines by race and gender. With the additional online analysis, we review how gender within ethnic groups affects the popularity of each discipline, and the patterns associated with that.

About the data: it is provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and allows us to look at the Top 100 institutions that awarded the most graduate degrees to minorities during the 2005-2006 academic years. The list only includes institutions eligible for Title IV funding that are located in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

NCES collects the data through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Program Completer’s Survey. Institutions provide information about the number of degrees and other formal awards conferred in academic, vocational and continuing professional education programs. Institutions use a standard set of federal categories to report student race/ethnicity: non-resident alien (i.e., not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident); Black; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian or Pacific Islander; Hispanic; White; and race/ethnicity unknown. Only U.S. citizens or permanent residents are included in the “minority” categories; therefore, international students are excluded.

Several databases have been established to further understand the gender and racial differences between disciplinary programs at the master’s, doctoral and first-professional levels. The databases below illustrate overall popularity in disciplinary programs by race/ethnicity and by gender within race/ethnicity, as well as largest numerical changes in disciplinary areas of post baccalaureate degrees awarded over the past 10 years.  In the chart entitled “Popularity in Disciplinary Areas of Post-baccalaureate Degrees Awarded in 2005-06,” the first column after discipline indicates the total number of graduates in 2005-2006, while the second column illustrates the rank order of that particular discipline.

Most Popular Fields of Study: Gender Differences


Women continue to outpace men at the graduate and doctoral levels, however women are concentrated in certain fields. At the master’s level, women triple the number of men in education, while men triple the number of women in engineering and computer and information science.

Specifically, Black women in education outpace men 4-to-1, as well as in psychology, where the ratio 5-to-1. However, men double the number of women in engineering. Hispanics also show similar trends, with women outpacing males in education 4-to-1, while men outpace women 3-to-1 in engineering.

Business management and administration was the top discipline for men in general and for each race/ethnicity. While education was the second choice for Black, Hispanic, American Indian and White men, engineering ranked second for Asian Americans.

Looking at the racial breakdown within a discipline is also interesting. While protective services ranks as the 10th most popular discipline for Black male master’s degree holders, they hold a significant share of degrees awarded in that field — 11.8 percent. When looking at what share of degrees in various disciplines Black men hold, protective services becomes the second most popular field.

As with the men, business management and education are the top two fields for master’s degrees for women, across racial lines. There’s very little variation at the doctoral level as well. But when you look at the share of degrees within specific fields, you see which ones which races are starting to dominate. International women, for instance, received the vast majority of doctoral degrees in math, engineering and law — more than 60 percent of degrees in those fields.

Black women earned a significant share of doctorates — more than 20 percent — in area, ethnic and cultural studies programs, as well as in theological studies and religious vocations. For Hispanic women, foreign language and literature are the most popular at the master’s and doctoral levels.

We won’t go into all the interesting finds in this data, so see for yourself which fields of studies specific groups are dominating and which ones they’re woefully underrepresented.

— Dr. Victor M. H. Borden is associate vice president and associate professor of Indiana University; Pamela C. Brown is associate director of enrollment services at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis; and Olivia Majesky-Pullmann is the statistician/researcher for Diverse.

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