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ORISE Report Shows Graduation Rates on the Rise in Nuclear Engineering in 2008

B.S. Degrees Awarded–Highest in 20 Years
Ph.D Degrees–Increased 43 Percent in One Year and 70 Percent Since Year 2000

May 21, 2009

OAK RIDGE, Tenn.—The number of college students graduating with majors in nuclear engineering continues to increase, according to a report by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), which surveyed 31 U.S. universities with nuclear engineering programs.

The report, titled Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Survey, 2008 Data, includes degrees granted between September 1, 2007, and August 31, 2008, and fall 2008 enrollments.

According to the report, 454 bachelor’s degrees with majors in nuclear engineering were awarded in 2008, the highest number reported in 20 years and a 10 percent increase over 2007. This marks the fifth consecutive year of increases; however, the rate of increase in 2008 was the lowest in five years.

The number of master’s degrees awarded with majors in nuclear engineering awarded increased for the sixth consecutive year and was the highest since 1995; however, it was still below the numbers granted annually from the early 1970s through the mid 1980s. A total of 260 master’s degrees with majors in nuclear engineering was awarded in 2008, an increase of almost 15 percent over 2007.

The survey data showed that the number of doctorate degrees increased substantially in 2008 and was 70 percent higher than in 2000. The total number of Ph.D. degrees awarded in 2008 was 127, an increase of 43 percent over 2007.

While undergraduate enrollments in nuclear engineering in 2008 were almost triple the enrollment in 2000, they were below the numbers reported from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s. However, reported undergraduate levels in 2008 were 2 percent lower than in 2007.

Graduate enrollments have increased each year since 2001, and in 2008 were reported to be more than 1,225.

“To an extent–and it’s somewhat simplistic to say so–the industry is recovering from the effects of the accident at Three Mile Island,” said Dr. Eric Abelquist, Oak Ridge Associated Universities, one of the nation’s leading providers of independent verification surveys of environmental cleanup. “Thirty years of safe nuclear power operation in the U.S., the energy crisis and concerns about CO2 emissions were required to do it.”

“The promise of an imminent nuclear renaissance has undoubtedly helped to drive increasing graduation and enrollment rates in nuclear engineering,” Abelquist said. “Nuclear power is a vital component of our country’s energy mix and has found renewed favor. Construction of nuclear plants requires thousands of workers, and when the plants are built, several hundred persons are needed to operate them.”

ORISE survey data also showed:

  • Employment of 2008 B.S. degree graduates in nuclear utilities is, on average, triple the numbers reported since 2000, and has returned to the annual numbers of nuclear engineers hired before 1998.
  • Employment of 2008 B.S. graduates in the federal government, is, on average, triple to quadruple the numbers reported since 2000 and the highest numbers reported in 20 years.
  • Employment of nuclear engineering graduates at all degree levels, but especially in the M.S. and Ph.D. levels, in U.S. Department of Energy contractors is also the highest reported in almost a decade.
  • Data was collected for employment in nuclear-related businesses for the first time in 2006.
  • Employment in other nuclear-related businesses shows a doubling for the M.S. level and quadrupling for the B.S. level in 2008 over 2006.
  • Data on post-graduation employment and other activity was also collected and reflected that continued study was, by far, the largest post-degree activity for both bachelor’s and master’s levels.

Reports similar to the 2008 one but from previous years are also available on the ORISE Web site.

ORISE has collected and/or monitored data on enrollments and degrees in science and energy-related fields of study for the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies since the mid-1970s.

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is a U.S. Department of Energy institute focusing on scientific initiatives to research health risks from occupational hazards, assess environmental cleanup, respond to radiation medical emergencies, support national security and emergency preparedness, and educate the next generation of scientists. ORISE is managed by Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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