Decline seen in undergraduate and master degrees, while number of doctoral degrees awarded increased

July 31, 2015

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—The number of college students graduating with majors in nuclear engineering has flattened and even declined somewhat after five straight years of continual increases, according to a report by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education that surveyed 35 U.S. universities with nuclear engineering programs. The report, titled Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2014 Data, includes degrees granted between Sept. 1, 2013 and Aug. 31, 2014.

Overall number of nuclear engineering degrees decline
Declines were seen in the number of students receiving both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, while the number of doctoral degrees awarded increased. According to the report, 627 students received bachelor’s degrees with majors in nuclear engineering in 2014—a four percent decrease from the previous year but still nearly three percent higher than 2012. The number reported for 2013 was the highest number of bachelor’s degrees reported since 1984, but still 19 percent below the peak years of the late 1970s.

The number of master’s degrees awarded in 2014 with majors in nuclear engineering decreased by 11 percent over 2013 and by three percent from 2012. A total of 322 students received master’s degrees, the third highest number since 1983. The survey data show that the number of doctorates granted in nuclear engineering in 2014 increased for the third year in row and is the third highest reported since 1966. The total number of doctorates awarded in 2014 was 169.

While this year’s survey included three additional academic programs, the number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded decreased in 2014. The three programs new to this year’s survey—Colorado School of Mines, University of Pittsburgh and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University—accounted for 24 of the graduate degrees awarded in 2014 but awarded no undergraduate degrees.

Pennsylvania State University had the largest number of nuclear engineering degrees awarded this year with 88 bachelor’s degrees, 32 master’s degrees and seven doctorate degrees, followed by the University of Tennessee and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Nuclear engineering degrees, 2005-2014

Year B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
2014 627 322 169
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

Source: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

Undergraduate enrollment in nuclear engineering programs continued to decline from 2012 peak
In 2014, nearly 1,440 students were enrolled as juniors or seniors in nuclear engineering undergraduate programs. This represented a decrease of 28 percent below what was reported in the prior year and more than one-third lower than reported in 2012. The enrollment numbers are similar to those reported in 2008 and 2009.

Fueling this likely trend is the report of declines in undergraduate enrollments at three out of every four academic departments surveyed. The last time graduate enrollment exceeded undergraduate enrollment was 2005, but it should be pointed out that undergraduate enrollment still exceeds the level reported in 2008.

Graduate enrollment in nuclear engineering departments increased in 2014 and remained at relatively high levels when compared to the levels experienced at the beginning of the previous decade.

Additional takeaways from the report:

  • Foreign nationals are reported to comprise five percent of nuclear engineering bachelor’s degrees, 15 percent of master’s degree recipients, and one-third of Ph.D. recipients.
  • Women were reported to make up 15 percent of nuclear engineering bachelor’s degrees, 19 percent of master’s degree recipients, and 12.5 percent of Ph.D. recipients.

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 Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2014 Data report.

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