America’s Ph.D. Production Experienced Its Steepest Drop on Record

The number of doctorates awarded by American universities fell 5.4 percent in 2021, according to the latest Survey of Earned Doctorates, making it the steepest decline in Ph.D. production in the survey’s 65-year history.

Data from the annual census of Ph.D. recipients, released Tuesday by the National Science Foundation and three other federal agencies, provides a look at how doctoral attainment was affected during the 2020-21 academic year, when the pandemic upended much of higher education.

According to the survey, 52,250 doctoral degrees were awarded in 2021. That’s nearly 3,000 Ph.D.s fewer than in 2020, when the number of Ph.D. recipients, at 55,224, had fallen 0.7 percent from the previous year.

Here are five trends contributing to the top-line drop in the number of doctoral degrees in 2021:

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