Enrollment data suggests current trend likely to continue in 2014 and 2015

April 1, 2014

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—The number of college students graduating with majors in health physics has increased slightly for bachelor’s degrees, but decreased for both master’s and doctoral candidates.

The report, titled Health Physics Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2013 Data, surveyed 22 academic programs with enrollment and degree data between Sept. 1, 2012 and Aug. 31, 2013, including both students majoring in health physics or those enrolled in an option program equivalent to a major.

Undergraduate degrees increase while graduate degrees fall slightly

According to the survey, 88 students received bachelor’s degrees with majors in health physics in 2013—a seven percent increase over 2012 and 37.5 percent higher than 2011. Despite the slight increase, the 2013 data is still 10 percent below the number of bachelor’s degrees reported in the mid-1990s and 40 percent lower than the peak years in the late 1970s.

The number of master’s degrees awarded in 2013 with majors in health physics were 5.5 percent lower than 2012 but very similar to those numbers reported in 2011.

The survey also showed that the number of doctorate degrees granted in 2013 was one less than in 2012, but considerably more than the five doctorate degrees granted in 2011.

Table 1. Health Physics Degrees, 2004-2013

Year B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
2013 88 86 14
2012* 82 91 15
2011 64 85 5
2010 62 89 15
2009 77 83 9
2008 73 108 8
2007 79 91 28
2006 71 90 12
2005 78 77 14
2004 54 64 14

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

Additionally, the report breakdown showed that the top degree granting programs were Oregon State University with 33 degrees granted, Texas A&M University with 26 degrees granted and two universities—Idaho State University and University of Massachusetts, Lowell—tying for third with each granting 17 degrees in 2013.

Enrollment in health physics programs increased for undergraduates, but declined for graduates

In 2013, health physics enrollments for undergraduates increased 10 percent over 2012 and 18 percent over 2011; however, graduate enrollment rates in 2013 were 14 percent lower than in 2012 and 18 percent lower than what was reported in 2010. The high enrollment rates for undergraduates indicates that the number of bachelor’s degrees is likely to increase in the coming years, but because the number of graduate enrollments is the lowest reported since the early 1970s, the number of graduate degrees are expected to decrease. Master’s recipients are expected to fall to 70-75 in 2014 and 2015. Doctorate recipients will likely decrease to within the 5-10 range in 2014 and 2015.

Employment opportunities

The report, published by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, also looked at post-graduation plans reported for the 2013 graduates and unfortunately, the unknown/not reported category accounted for almost half of the bachelor’s graduates and one-fifth of the master’s graduates. Excluding the unknown/not reported category, most bachelor’s students intend to continue their studies as their next step upon completing their current degree program. Master’s students reported employment at medical facilities and continued study as their path forward. For doctorate graduates, academic employment and medical facility employment both accounted for 33 percent of the employed graduates.

“We are concerned about the vitality of health physics teaching programs at several college and universities,” said Dr. Darrell R. Fisher, president of the Health Physics Society. “To remain vibrant and healthy, these programs need highly dedicated faculty, long-term support from university administrators, and adequate sponsored funding for fellowships and research. Graduate programs also need to actively recruit from undergraduate talent pools to maintain a critical mass.”

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 early 1970s. View the full report on 2013.

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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.