Number of graduate degrees expected to remain consistent, but undergraduate degrees could see decrease come 2015

March 3, 2014

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—The number of college students graduating with majors in nuclear engineering continues to increase, according to a report by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which surveyed 32 U.S. universities with nuclear engineering programs. The report, titled Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2013 Data, includes degrees granted between Sept. 1, 2012 and Aug. 31, 2013.

Graduate, undergraduate nuclear engineering degrees increased from last year

Year B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
2013 655 362 147
2012* 610 333 119
2011 524 277 113
2010 443 303 113
2009 395 233 87
2008 454 260 127
2007 413 227 89
2006 346 214 70
2005 268 171 74
2004 219 154 75

*2012 data for five programs estimated by ORISE. See the appendix for more information. Source: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

According to the report, 655 students received bachelor’s degrees with majors in nuclear engineering in 2013—a seven percent increase over 2012 and 25 percent higher than 2011. This is the highest number of bachelor’s degrees reported in 30 years, but still 20 percent below the peak years in the 1970s.

The number of master’s degrees awarded in 2013 with majors in nuclear engineering increased by nine percent over 2012 and by 31 percent over 2011. A total of 362 students received master’s degrees making it the highest since 1980.

The survey data showed that the number of doctorate degrees granted in 2013 was 23.5 percent higher than 2012 and 30 percent higher than in 2011. The total number of Ph.D. degrees awarded in 2013 was 147 making it the highest since 1972 when the number of Ph.D. degrees was reported at 151.

Additionally, the ORISE report breakdown showed that the top three degree-granting programs were Pennsylvania State University, University of Michigan and the University of Tennessee. Pennsylvania State University led the way in the number of nuclear engineering degrees awarded with 85 bachelor’s degrees, 42 master’s degrees and nine doctorate degrees.

Enrollment in nuclear engineering programs declined from last year

In 2013, nuclear engineering enrollments for undergraduate and graduate students were down nine percent and five percent, respectively, when compared to 2012. The number of students enrolled in nuclear engineering undergraduate programs in 2013 decreased twice as much below any gains made in 2012 enrollment numbers. This change indicates that while the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded is likely to remain in the 630 to 650 range in 2014, the number of students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in nuclear engineering 2015 will likely decrease to less than 600. The number of graduate degrees is likely to remain within the same range in both 2014 and 2015.

Employment opportunities

The ORISE report also looked at post-graduation plans reported for 2013 graduates and concluded that excluding the unknown/not reported category, most students intend to continue their studies as their next step upon completing their current degree program. For those pursuing employment opportunities, nuclear utilities are reported as having the largest employment numbers for students having obtained a bachelor’s degree. Students with master's degrees tend to seek employment in active duty military, other nuclear-related, nuclear utilities, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) contractors, other business and the federal government. For Ph.D. graduates, DOE contractor, federal government, and other business each accounted for 10 or more of these graduates.

“The nuclear renaissance is alive and well, but the challenge is making sure we have an adequate supply of nuclear engineering jobs for these graduates,” said Dr. Eric Abelquist, ORAU executive vice president. “Slow economic recovery following the Great Recession in 2009 has dampened electricity demand and low natural gas prices make it a safer bet for utilities to build gas-powered units. Nuclear engineering graduates must be patient and persistent. The jobs will come, albeit more slowly than the nuclear industry had hoped.”

ORISE has collected and/or monitored data on enrollments and degrees in science and energy-related fields of study for DOE and other federal agencies since the mid-1970s. View the full report on featuring 2013 data.

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The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is a world-class DOE institute designed to strengthen a scientific workforce; promote the integrity of scientific research through peer review; provide 24/7 medical response to radiation accidents; evaluate human health data to protect workers from occupational hazards; and conduct independent environmental cleanup assessments.