ORISE report shows overall number of nuclear engineering degrees increases to highest level since 2016 Higher numbers primarily driven by rise in number of nuclear engineering masters’ degrees

February 2, 2021

The number of nuclear engineering degrees awarded in 2019 were at the highest level since 2016, driven primarily by a significant increase in the number of masters’ degrees awarded. Additionally, the number of doctorate degrees awarded in 2019 were the second highest level recorded since 1966. This is according to a study conducted by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education that surveyed 34 U.S. universities with nuclear engineering programs. The report, Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2019 Data, includes degrees granted between September 1, 2018 and August 31, 2019 and enrollments for fall 2019. 

Number of bachelors’ degrees remain about the same while number of master’s degrees increases after two-year slump

According to the report, the number of bachelors’ degrees in 2019 awarded by nuclear engineering programs is nearly the same as in 2018 but is higher than levels reported in 2016 and 2017. It continues the recent trend that began in 2012 of more than 600 bachelors’ degrees being awarded annually and remains significantly above the levels reported in the previous decade.

Nuclear engineering degrees, 2010-2019

Year B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
2019 622 316 194
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

Source: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

The number of nuclear engineering master’s degrees awarded in 2019 increased by 21 percent from 2018 and are 12 percent higher than the number awarded in 2017. The number of masters’ degrees awarded in 2019 was the highest number reported since 2016.

The survey data showed that the number of doctorate degrees is nearly identical to the number awarded in 2018, continuing a trend of higher advanced degrees awarded (masters and doctorate) since 2008. The number of doctorates awarded in nuclear engineering in 2019 is the third highest reported since 1966, the first year for which the survey data was collected.

Texas A&M University had the largest number of nuclear engineering degrees awarded in 2019 with 80 bachelor’s degrees, 16 master’s degrees and 17 doctorate degrees, followed by the University of Tennessee, Oregon State University and Penn State University.

Enrollment trends and short-term outlook for degree trends

Undergraduate Students. In 2019, the enrollment of junior and senior nuclear engineering undergraduate students was approximately 1,740, an increase of about 3 percent from enrollment levels reported in 2018 but still 10 percent less than reported in 2016. Undergraduate enrollment reported for 2019 is the 14th highest undergraduate enrollment reported since 1971 and appears to be recovering from recent declines. The number of bachelor’s degrees earned over the next year or two should continue to remain close to 600 in 2020.

Graduate Students. Graduate enrollment in 2019 was 1,690 students, 5 percent lower than graduate enrollments reported in 2018 and nearly identical to graduate enrollments reported for 2015. Graduate enrollments continue their uneven advance from the low levels experienced 20 years ago and are at their seventh highest level since 1971. The continued strength in graduate enrollment indicates that the total number of graduate degrees awarded in the near future is likely to remain near the levels of the prior two years.

Employment or other post-graduation status

For students graduating with bachelor’s degrees and reporting their post-graduation plans, employment in the U.S. military (active duty) had the largest number followed by employment in the nuclear utility sector. The next three largest sectors are other nuclear-related employment, still seeking employment, and DOE contractor employment. The number of students with bachelor’s degrees who cited DOE contractor employment is one of the highest reported over the last two decades. Those who reported U.S. military (active duty) accounted for the highest number reported since 1996.

For those graduating with a master’s degree and reporting employment, DOE contractor employment, other nuclear-related employment, nuclear utility employment, U.S. military (active duty), and other employment accounted for the majority of employment plans. More than 3 out of every 5 of these graduates reported planned employment with nuclear utilities, other nuclear-related organizations or DOE contractors. New to this year’s survey, 6 new master degree recipients reported plans for employment in medical facilities.

For students graduating with a doctorate degree, DOE contractor employment, federal government employment, other nuclear-related employment, and other business employment accounted for 14 or more of the employee graduates. The number reported for DOE contractor employment is 3 more than the number reported in 2018 and represented the highest reported over the last two decades.

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 on 2019 data here.

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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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