Number of nuclear engineering doctorate degrees spike to second highest level in 45 years

Sep 20, 2017

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—After briefly rebounding in 2015, the number of college students graduating in nuclear engineering dropped in 2016. 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, 2016 Data, includes degrees granted between Sept. 1, 2015, and Aug. 31, 2016.

Overall number of nuclear engineering degrees decreases

According to the report, 621 students received bachelor’s degrees in nuclear engineering in 2016—a 5 percent decrease over 2015 and nearly 1 percent lower than 2014. Still, the number of bachelor’s degrees in 2016 remains significantly above the numbers reported in the previous decade and is 79 percent higher than the number reported in 2006.

The number of nuclear engineering master’s degrees awarded in 2016 fell by 2 percent over 2015 but is 10 percent higher than the number awarded in 2014. The 355 master’s degrees awarded in 2016 were greater than the numbers reported at the beginning of the decade and 66 percent higher than the number reported in 2006.

Nuclear engineering degrees, 2006-2016

Year B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
2016 621 355 161
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

The survey data showed that the number of doctorate degrees granted in 2016 increased to 161—a 10 percent increase over 2015. The increase resumed a trend of increases since 2010 after a one-year decrease in 2015. The number of doctorate degrees awarded in nuclear engineering is the fourth highest reported since 1966 and the second highest since 1972.

Penn State University had the largest number of nuclear engineering degrees awarded in 2016 with 90 bachelor’s degrees, 30 master’s degrees and 4 doctorate degrees, followed by the University of Michigan and the University of Tennessee.

Undergraduate enrollment in nuclear engineering programs increased from previous year

In 2016, nuclear engineering enrollments for undergraduate students was up 9 percent above the number reported in 2015 and approaching the levels reported from 2011 through 2013. Graduate enrollment was similar to graduate enrollments reported in 2014 and 2015, and nearly 8 percent higher than the graduate enrollments reported in 2013. The increase in undergraduate enrollments will likely result in modest increases in the number of bachelor’s degrees earned over the next year or two. The number of bachelor’s degrees should remain above 600 in 2017. Graduate enrollments have rebounded substantially since 2001 but are still below the numbers reported from the mid-1970s. The continued strength in graduate enrollment indicates that both the number of master’s degrees and the number of PhDs awarded in the near future are likely to remain near the levels of the last three years.

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 2016 data here: Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2016 Data.

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