Increases seen in undergraduate and master degrees, while number of doctorate degrees awarded declined

May 23, 2016

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—After briefly declining in 2014 following five straight years of continual increases, the number of college students graduating with majors in nuclear engineering has rebounded. This is according to an annual study conducted by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education which surveyed 35 U.S. universities with nuclear engineering programs. The report, titled Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2015 Data, includes degrees granted between Sept. 1, 2014, and Aug. 31, 2015.

Overall number of nuclear engineering degrees increases

According to the report, 652 students received bachelor’s degrees with majors in nuclear engineering in 2015—a 4 percent increase over 2014 and just 0.5 percent lower than 2013. This is the second highest number of bachelor’s degrees reported since 1984; however, it remains 23 percent below the peak years in the 1970s.

The number of nuclear engineering master’s degrees awarded in 2015 increased by 13 percent over 2014 and is nearly identical to the number reported for 2013. The 363 master’s degrees awarded in 2015 are the highest since the 1980s.

The survey data showed that the number of doctorate degrees granted in 2015 fell to 147—a 13 percent decrease from 2014. However, the number is the same that was reported in 2013. Doctorate numbers reported in 2015 and 2013 are the second highest numbers reported since 1972.

Penn State University had the largest number of nuclear engineering degrees awarded in 2015 with 68 bachelor’s degrees, 25 master’s degrees and 5 doctorate degrees, followed by Texas A&M University and the University of Tennessee.

Nuclear engineering degrees, 2006-2015

Year B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
2015 652 363 147
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

Source: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

Enrollment in nuclear engineering programs increased from previous year

In 2015, nuclear engineering enrollments for undergraduate and graduate students were up 23 percent and five percent, respectively, when compared to 2014. The undergraduate increase in 2015 still leaves enrollment below the level reported in 2013. This indicates that the number of bachelor’s degrees is likely to remain in the 630 to 650 range in 2016, but could decrease to less than 600 in 2017. And while graduate enrollment for 2015 was the highest reported since 1977, trends indicate that the number of graduate degrees in 2016 and 2017 are likely to be in the same range as in recent years, which is about 320 for master’s degrees and more than 140 for doctorate degrees.

Employment opportunities

The ORISE report also looked at post-graduation plans reported for 2015 graduates. After 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, active military duty had the largest number of bachelor’s graduates, followed by other business employment, nuclear utility employment, other nuclear-related employment and DOE contractors. For master’s graduates who reported employment plans, 87 percent cited active duty military, nuclear utility employment, other nuclear-related, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) contractors, the federal government, and other business. For Ph.D. graduates, employment with the federal government or its contractors accounted for the most often-chosen career path.

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 2015 data here: Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2015 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.