Despite number of bachelor’s degrees decreasing, number of master’s and doctorate degrees increased

May 16, 2019

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—The number of undergraduate students who graduated in 2018 with bachelor’s degrees in health physics dropped to the lowest level in nearly two decades, while the number of master’s and doctorate degrees increased. This is according to the latest study conducted by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which surveyed 23 health physics programs, representing nearly all such programs at the nation’s universities. The report, titled Health Physics Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2017-2018 Data, showed that a total of 238 bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees were granted during the academic years September 2016 through August 2017 and September 2017 through August 2018.

Table 1. Health Physics Degrees, 2009-2018

Year B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
2018 39 64 19
2017 47 56 13
2016 56 66 23
2015 49 84 18
2014 67 81 10
2013 88 86 14
2012 82 91 15
2011 64 85 5
2010 62 89 15
2009 77 83 9

Source: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

Number of bachelor’s decline, while master’s and doctorate degrees increase

According to the report, 86 students received bachelor’s degrees with majors in health physics in 2017 and 2018—the lowest number of bachelor’s degrees reported since 2001.

The number of health physics master’s degrees awarded in 2018 increased by 14 percent from 2017 and is only three percent lower than the number awarded in 2016. The number of master’s degrees reported in 2017 was lower than any of the numbers reported since the beginning of the decade and is also lower than the numbers of master’s degrees awards since 2004, when 64 master’s health physics degrees were awarded.

The survey data showed that the number of doctorate degrees granted in 2018 increased by 46 percent over 2017 awards, continuing a pattern of fluctuating award numbers since 2002. The number of doctorate degrees awarded in health physics in 2018 is the second highest number reported since 2007, when 28 doctorate degrees were awarded.

Oregon State University had the largest number of health physics degrees awarded in 2018 with 11 bachelor’s degrees, 21 master’s degrees and five doctorate degree, followed by Idaho State University and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.  

Enrollment is rising in health physics programs overall

In 2018, 200 juniors and seniors were reported to be enrolled in health physics programs, an increase of almost 10 percent from the enrollment level reported in 2016, 30 percent more than reported in 2015, and also higher than the level reported for 2014. Undergraduate enrollment reported for 2018 is the third highest undergraduate enrollment since 2010. Undergraduate enrollment appears to be returning to levels experienced for the previous 5 to 10 years.

Employment opportunities

The ORISE report also looked at post-graduation plans reported for 2018 graduates. For bachelor’s degree graduates, employment in the other nuclear-related sector had the largest number, followed by those reporting academic employment, DOE contractor employment, medical facilities employment, and other business employment. For employed master’s graduates, other business employment, federal government employment, U.S. military, medical facilities employment and academic employment accounted for the majority of employment plans.

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: Health Physics Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2017-18 Data.

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The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asset that is dedicated to enabling critical scientific, research, and health initiatives of the department and its laboratory system by providing world class expertise in STEM workforce development, scientific and technical reviews, and the evaluation of radiation exposure and environmental contamination. 

ORISE is managed by ORAU, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, for DOE’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.osti.gov.