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Report: Minority Doctoral Recipients Gaining Momentum

Twenty percent of the U.S. citizens awarded research doctorates from American universities in 2006 were ethnic minorities, according to a recent report released by the National Science Foundation in conjunction with the National Opinion Research Center and an assortment of government agencies. 

It was the largest percentage ever recorded for minority recipients in the annual Survey of Earned Doctorates. This data and other findings can be found in the 2006 summary report of Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities.


Doctoral Degrees Conferred, 2005-06


African Americans


Asians/Pacific Islanders




American Indian


During the 2005-06 academic year, U.S. universities awarded 46,596 research doctoral degrees, improving 5 percent from the year before. This total, which includes international students, represents the highest number of research doctoral recipients in U.S history, researchers say.

A total of 5,211 minority students were awarded research doctorates; a 2.6 percent increase over 2005. While minorities made up 20 percent of U.S. awardees, they made up 11 percent of all doctoral recipients, including international students.

Over the last decade, the number of minority doctoral recipients has increased by 12 percent; conversely the number of White doctoral recipients has declined by three percent.

Among minorities, African-Americans earned the most doctorates (1,659) followed by Asians, (1,560) Hispanics, (1,370) American Indians, (118), Pacific Islanders (59) and multi-ethnic individuals (445).

For the fifth consecutive year, women were awarded more doctorates than their male counterparts. In 2006, women received 51 percent of Ph.D.s granted to U.S. citizens, the same percentage as 2005.

“We have to take these results in context. While they are positive, the only thing that really solidifies how positive they are is if they continue. In the late 70s early 80s we saw a big jump in the numbers. Right after, there was a huge dip that took about 10 years to make up,” says Dr. Ansley Abraham, director of the Southern Regional Education Board’s Doctoral Scholars Program.

There were 279 fields of specialization covered by the Survey of Earned Doctorates, grouped into seven broad categories: life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, engineering, education, humanities and a heterogeneous group of other fields.

The 5 percent increase in doctorates awarded in 2006 were fueled by increases in six of the seven broad fields, analysts say. Engineering and physical sciences showed the largest gains at 12 percent. The number of doctorates awarded in the field of education dropped 2 percent since 2005.

Abraham attributes the increase in minority recipients to a combination of several factors. “There have been a number of significant efforts across the country to improve these numbers including our own at SREB. Colleges and universities are also trying harder to make [minority] students more comfortable in academic settings at the graduate level,” Abraham says.

Minority groups had their largest representation in the fields of engineering (24 percent); education (23 percent); and social sciences at (19 percent). African-Americans were the largest minority population in education representing 55 percent. Asians were the largest contingent in engineering, physical sciences and life sciences; representing 53 percent, 48 percent, and 42 percent respectively. Hispanics were the largest minority population in humanities at 33 percent. 

The report revealed that the proportion of doctorates earned by women has also grown consistently within all of the broad fields of study. Women constituted nearly two-thirds of all education doctoral recipients (65 percent) for 2006, as well as the majority in social sciences (57 percent). However, in the fields of physical sciences and engineering, the number of female Ph.D. recipients declined by two percent respectively. 

Since 1963, the SED has asked new doctoral recipients to report both of their parents’ highest level of educational attainment. This year, as in years’ past, there was considerable variation in parental educational attainment by race and ethnicity.

Asian Americans were more likely than other members of other ethnic groups to come from families in which one or both parents attained at least a baccalaureate degree. Black, Hispanic and American Indian recipients’ parents were less likely to have gone beyond high school and were far less likely to have attained a baccalaureate or advanced degree than Whites and Asians.

Among other findings of the report:

  • The University of Texas-Austin granted the largest number of doctorates, 796, or 2 percent of all doctorates awarded in 2006, followed by the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and University of California-Los Angeles. 
  • U.S. citizens received 63 percent of all research doctorates and 56 percent of science and engineering doctoral recipients earned in 2006. China had the largest number of non-U.S. doctorates.

–Michelle J. Nealy

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