Concern about the possible decline of science in the United States has led researchers to examine where our scientists come from and whether we are still producing them.
Although only 3 percent of the students enrolled in colleges and universities are foreign, their numbers in science and engineering are considerably higher and are growing. Eight percent of all undergraduate degrees in science and engineering go to foreign students, and the number is several times that large at the master's degree level.
The prominence of foreign students in doctoral programs is even greater. Every year since 1981, foreign students have earned more than half of all the doctorates in engineering and more than a quarter of all doctoral degrees in the physical and social sciences, according to a National Science Foundation Report in the "Surveys of Science Resources" series.
As foreign citizens flock to U.S. schools, the number of Americans taking degrees is declining. Despite a growing population, the number of Americans earning doctoral degrees, which peaked in 1971, had dropped 11 percent by 1985.
Men accounted for the whole decrease. In 1971, 11,090 received PhDs; while only 7,669 did in 1985. At the same time, women PhDs increased 180 percent, to about 3,700.
But it is not clear that these numbers mean U.S. science is in decline. About 90 percent of the foreign students plan to stay and practice science in the United States. Neither is there any evidence that their science would be inferior. They score about as well as Americans on the Graduate Record Examination, except in verbal ability.