Some readers may remember, perhaps nostalgically, the bountiful days of 1999, when, in the latter years of the Clinton Presidency, the US economy was booming and the federal government was running a surplus. However, 1999 also saw the culmination of a decade of declining enrollments in physics at the college level.
Fast forward to data from the Roster of Physics Departments, 2010, just published by Patrick Mulvey and Starr Nicholson at the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics. According to the report: “Academic year 2009-10 produced more physics bachelor’s and more physics PhDs than in any other year in US history. The 6,017 physics bachelor’s degrees earned in the class of 2010 represent a 65% increase from the class of 1999 eleven years earlier. The 1,558 PhDs in the class of 2010 is up 43% from a recent low 6 years earlier. Non-US citizens comprise 53% of the physics PhDs in the class of 2010.”
In a companion report on astronomy, Mulvey and Nicholson note that “the 382 astronomy physics bachelor’s degrees earned in the class of 2010 represent a 19% increase from the previous class and an increase of 89% from a decade earlier.”
Is there a reason for the apparent counter-cyclical correlation between economic activity and physics enrollments? The authors do not speculate. More information, including a breakdown by institution, can be found on the AIP website at http://www.aip.org/statistics/.