May 20, 2016
More than ever before, our economy is driven by science and technology––and college students are responding with resounding enthusiasm. We looked at data from more than 2000 U.S. universities over the past two decades and found that degrees in science and tech have reached an all-time high.
From 1992 to 2014, U.S. college students graduated with degrees spanning more than 60 majors. We grouped these into three categories––social science, humanities, and science & technology––and discovered some interesting trends.
The percentage of majors in the humanities (as a proportion of all majors) remained steady, averaging 23.7 percent of all degrees conferred between 1992 and 2014. As shown in the above graph, there was a slight increase in humanities majors between 2003 and 2011, but the highest deviation was only 2.6 percentage points from the overall average.
A more distinct change occurred in the social sciences, the most popular category over the longest period of our study. Majors in this category declined from a peak of 44.3 percent in 1992 to an all-time low of 35.8 percent in 2014. Despite this downward trend, social sciences remained the dominant area of study until 2012, when it was edged out by science & technology majors for the first time in 19 years.
Science and tech majors reached an all-time high in 2012––and continued to increase through 2014 (and quite possibly, to present day). A closer look at the graph reveals two notable periods of growth: one begins in 1994, the other in 2011. Is it coincidence or correlation that these two periods coincide with the dot-com and tech bubbles in recent history? We think it’s correlated.
So we dug deeper by looking at computer science degrees (a sub-set of science and tech) conferred at Stanford University, located within the epicenter of the technology industry. We discovered that computer science trends at Stanford (see graph below) were similar to that of science and tech (see graph above). In fact, the computer science trends at Stanford were even more pronounced.
Perhaps our most surprising finding came when we looked at the gender breakdown of computer science majors. Since the dot-com boom in 2000, the percentage of women graduating in computer science declined and never really picked back up despite the increasing number of computer science graduates. In a time where research by the Department of Labor in 2012 showed women making up only 26 percent of the computing workforce, this trend can be concerning.
When reviewing trends over the past two decades, it’s clear that science and technology degrees have become all the rage. Social science degrees still rank high in popularity, but are waning. And humanities degrees, though relatively steady through the years, look like they’re taking a dive. As the economy develops, college students flock towards degrees most useful in today’s world. After all, money talks.
Stay tuned as we take a deeper look into these three categories of degrees over the next few weeks.