ORISE report shows overall number of nuclear engineering degrees decreases to lowest level in more than a decade Despite decreases in bachelor’s and master’s degrees, doctoral degrees reach highest level since 1966

January 9, 2024 

The overall number of nuclear engineering degrees awarded in 2021 and 2022 were at their lowest levels in more than a decade. However, the number of doctoral degrees awarded in 2022 was at the 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, 2021-22 Data (.PDF, 210 KB), includes degrees awarded between September 1, 2020, and August 31, 2022, and enrollments for fall 2022. 

Number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees drop while number of doctoral degrees increases slightly in 2022 survey

Nuclear Engineering Degrees, 2010-2022 Degrees
Year B.S. M.S. Ph.D.
2022 454 267 208
2021 444 223 174
2019 622 316 194
2018 623 260 195
2017 619 282 170
2016 621 355 161
2015 652 363 147
2014 627 322 169
2012 610 333 119
2011 524 277 113
2010 443 303 113
Two health physicists performing a radiological survey

According to the report, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded by nuclear engineering programs in 2021 dropped significantly from 2019 and rose slightly in 2022. Recent data ends the trend that began in 2012 of more than 600 bachelor’s degrees being awarded annually and returns to the trend reported in the previous decade. 

The number of nuclear engineering master’s degrees awarded in 2022 increased by 20 percent from 2021 but is 16 percent lower than the number awarded in 2019. 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 awarded in 2022 is 20 percent higher than the number awarded in 2021 and 7 percent higher than the number awarded in 2019, the highest number of doctoral degrees awarded 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 2021 and 2022 with 130 bachelor’s degrees, 52 master’s degrees and 34 doctorate degrees, followed by the University of Tennessee, University of Michigan and University of California, Berkeley. 

Enrollment trends and short-term outlook for degree trends

Undergraduate Students. In 2022, the enrollment of junior and senior nuclear engineering undergraduate students was reported to be approximately 1,470, a decrease of about 16% from the enrollment level reported in 2019, 13% less than reported in 2018, and 24% lower than the level reported for 2016. Undergraduate enrollments reported for 2022 are the lowest since 2014 and appear to be on a new trajectory compared to the strong positive trend exhibited from 2001 to 2013. The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded over the next year or two should continue to remain close to 450. 

Graduate Students. Graduate enrollment in 2022 totaled about 1,590 students, six percent lower than graduate enrollments reported in 2019 and 10% lower than graduate enrollments reported in 2018. Graduate enrollments continue their uneven advance from the low levels experienced twenty years ago and are on par with the numbers reported at the inception of collecting enrollment data in 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

The career plans for graduates provided by respondents fall largely into two categories: unknown/not reported and continued study. The unknown/not reported category accounts for 53% of the bachelor’s degree graduates, 43% of the master’s degree graduates, and 41% of the Ph.D. graduates. Other than the unknown/not reported category, continued study was the most frequently reported post-degree activity for the graduates with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. For Ph.D. graduates, US Department of Energy (DOE) contractor employment was the largest category.

For bachelor’s degree graduates reporting post-graduation employment plans, employment in the US military, active duty, was the largest category, followed by those reporting employment in the nuclear utility sector. The next three largest sectors are DOE contractor employment, other nuclear-related employment, and federal government employment. The number of new bachelor’s degree graduates reporting DOE contractor employment remains at the average level of the last two decades. The number reported for the U.S. military, active duty, has remained fairly level over the same time-period.

For master’s degree graduates reporting employment plans, DOE contractor employment, nuclear utility employment, other nuclear-related employment, federal government employment, and US military, active duty, accounted for the majority of responses. In recent years, the number of new master’s degree graduates reporting plans for active military duty has continued to decrease from the high of 28 in 2015 to 12 in 2022. The share of new master’s degree graduates reporting planned employment by nuclear utilities, other nuclear-related employment, and DOE contractors accounted for three of every five master’s degree graduates seeking employment in 2022.

For Ph.D. graduates’ employment plans, DOE contractor employment, other nuclear-related employment, and federal government employment were the highest reported categories. The number reported for DOE contractor employment is a 19% decrease from the high reported in 2019 yet remains the third highest reported over the last two decades. Other nuclear related employment and nuclear utility employment are both the highest reported since 1996, while the number of 2022 Ph.D. graduates still seeking employment is among the lowest ever reported.

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 2021 and 2022 data (.PDF, 210 KB).

Media Contacts

Pam Bonee
Director, Communications
Phone: 865.603.5142

Wendy West
Manager, Communications
Phone: 865.207.7953

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.