ORISE report shows number of nuclear engineering doctoral degrees spike to highest level in 52 years Numbers for bachelor’s and master’s degrees remain relatively stable

April 30, 2019

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—The number of nuclear engineering doctorate degrees awarded in 2018 reached the highest level recorded since 1966. 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, Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2017-2018 Data, includes degrees granted between September 2016 and August 2017, and September 2017 and August 2018.

The survey data showed that the number of doctorate degrees increased in 2018, continuing a trend of increases since 2015. The number of doctorate degrees in nuclear engineering awarded in 2018 – 195 – is the highest reported since 1966, the first year for which survey data was collected.

Overall number of nuclear engineering degrees increases

The number of nuclear engineering master’s degrees awarded in 2018 fell by 8 percent 2017. The 260 master’s degrees awarded in 2018 was lower than any of the numbers reported since the beginning of the decade but is nearly 12 percent greater than the number reported in 2009.

According to the report, 623 students received bachelor’s degrees in nuclear engineering in 2018—a one percent increase over 2017. Still, the number of bachelor’s degrees in 2018 remains significantly above the numbers reported in the previous decade and is 58 percent higher than the number reported in 2009.

Texas A&M University had the largest number of nuclear engineering degrees awarded in 2018 with 82 bachelor’s degrees, 16 master’s degrees and 13 doctorate degrees, followed by the University of Tennessee.

Nuclear engineering degrees, 2009-2018

Year B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
2018 623 260 195
2017 619 282 170
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

Source: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

Enrollment trends and short-term outlook for degree trends

Undergraduate Students. In 2018, the enrollment of junior and senior nuclear engineering undergraduate students was approximately 1,680, a decrease of almost 13 percent from the enrollment level reported in 2016. Undergraduate enrollment reported for 2018 is the seventh highest undergraduate enrollment reported since 1985. However, undergraduate enrollment appears to be returning to lower levels last experienced five years ago. The decrease in undergraduate enrollments may result in modest decreases in the number of bachelor’s degrees earned over the next year or two, but the number of bachelor’s degrees should remain near 600 in 2019.

Graduate Students. Graduate enrollment in 2018 was 1,775 students, nearly 9 percent greater than graduate enrollments reported in 2016 and 5 percent higher than graduate enrollments reported for 2015. Graduate enrollments continue their uneven advance from the low levels experienced 20 years ago to the most recent levels, which are the highest since 1976. The continued strength in graduate enrollment indicates that the total number of graduate degrees awarded in the near future is likely to remain near (or may even exceed) 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 early-1970s.

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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.

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