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Figure: Physics Bachelors Production in the US 1955-1998
After many years of steady decline, the number of undergraduates earning bachelor's degrees in physics appears to have finally stabilized, according to a recent report on the graduating senior class of 1998, compiled by the American Institute of Physics (AIP). U.S. colleges and universities awarded a total of 3,821 B.S. degrees in physics, according to Patrick Mulvey of AIP's Education and Employment Statistics Division. However, the decline persists in larger physics departments that also maintain graduate programs in physics. Among these schools, the cumulative drop in degrees has now reached 27% since 1992.
Mulvey says satisfaction levels among physics bachelor recipients are quite high, with 86% indicating they would still major in physics if they had to do it over. An overwhelming majority of the respondents said they chose to study physics because they enjoyed the subject, not because of the potential career opportunities it offered, although physic seniors believe they will have strong employment prospects with their degrees.
As in years past, roughly half of the new physics bachelors said they intend to enter graduate school immediately, with 31% planning to study physics or a related field and an additional 19% choosing to pursue other disciplines, most commonly engineering. The AIP survey found that of those going on to graduate school, most were optimistic about their job prospects, with 86% intending to earn a PhD and 61% hoping to secure a career as a college or university professor.
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