APS News

US Physics Enrollments Continue to Set Records

More US students graduated with physics degrees in 2012 than ever before, according to a recently released study. The statistics center at the American Institute of Physics (AIP) reported that 6,776 students received a bachelor's degree in physics in the 2011-2012 academic year, and 1,762 students earned a PhD, a record in both categories. View the results on AIP’s August 2013 issue of focus on.

Bachelor's degrees are up eight percent over last year's numbers and PhDs increased by four percent. The number of physics degrees awarded has been climbing since enrollments bottomed out about a decade and a half ago. The number of physics degrees awarded represents an 86 percent increase from 1999 when enrollment was at its lowest in recent years. PhDs similarly hit a their lowest point in 2004, and have risen 62 percent since then.

Patrick Mulvey, of AIP's statistical research center, said that there was no single cause driving the increase in enrollment. He said that physics departments have been devoting more resources and effort to developing better undergraduate programs, which opens the pipeline for more graduate degrees as well.

"Ten years ago there was an important report, 'Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics: Project Report,ʼ that described the characteristics of a successful and inviting physics department," Mulvey said. "I think many departments took to heart the sentiment of that report and proceeded to change the culture of their undergraduate programs."

AIP contacted the nation's 751 degree-granting physics departments and 79 astronomy departments nationwide to compile their enrollment numbers. There was a 94 percent response rate in physics, and 89 percent in astronomy.

The reports include data from the responding departments and estimates from those that did not respond. The reports are available online at AIP's Current Reports and Data Resources web page.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella