African Americans Making Slow but Steady Progress in Doctoral Degree Awards

The National Science Foundation recently released its annual data on doctoral degree recipients in the United States. Data for the annual Survey of Earned Doctorates shows that universities in the United States conferred 55,693 doctorates in 2019.

Of these, 3,095, or 5.6 percent, were earned by African Americans or Black students from foreign nations. There were 2,512 African Americans who earned doctorates in 2019. They made up 7.1 percent of all doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens or permanent residents in the United States.  Therefore, African Americans earned about one half the number of doctorates that would be the case if racial parity with the U.S. Black population prevailed.

The good news is that African Americans are making progress in doctoral degree awards. In 2010, 1,939 African Americans earned doctoral degrees at U.S. universities. Thus, the number of African Americans earning doctorates is up nearly 30 percent over the decade.

As stated, in 2019 African Americans made up 7.1 percent of all doctorate earned by U.S. citizens or permanent residents in the United States. In 2010, the figure was 6.1.

Of the 2,519 African Americans who earned doctorates in 2019, 1,619 identified as women and 893 were men. Thus, women made up 64.3 percent of all African Americans earning doctorates in 2019. This gender gap in African American doctoral degree awards has remained steady over the decade.

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  1. It is really bad news that blacks earned only about 2% of the doctorates awarded in the physical sciences, but about 16% of the doctorates awarded in education.

    Schools of education are usually among the least rigorous and demanding of academic environments. As the controversy over Jill Biden’s dissertation demonstrates, some universities will award a doctorate in education for desk research of doubtful value that can be completed in a month or two.

    • As the recipient of a Doctor of Education degree I find your comments to be ignorant and completely unfounded. First, do you even have a doctorate? Second, what concrete evidence do have to make such false and unsubstantiated statements about schools of education? I leave you with this: No profession would be possible if not for teachers. I pray that you do not work in education and if you do your students are in serious trouble.

      • Carlos-

        Ewart does make a good point. Oftentimes, Blacks are more likely to pursue graduate degrees in the soft sciences and education but never in STEM fields. I believe, as a community, we have abundant stock of educators/ higher education leadership but remain short on scientists and even educator in STEM.

        I read several years ago of Blacks students at Duke University who initially majored in a STEM field and then quickly switched to non-STEM majors. Now, I don’t if the curriculum was too rigorous, microaggressions, if the demands of these fields require a lot of concentration and time dedicated to studying or if they were encouraged by faculty and advisors to phase out of the program.

        Either way, we can’t deny the paucity of Blacks pursuing STEM degrees.

        • Mistake 1: Stop relying on belief-based arguments to understand complex issues: “I believe, as a community, we have abundant stock of educators/ higher education leadership.”

          Fact: Black people are under-represented as teachers, education administrators, and scholars. The data are not hard to find.

          Mistake 2: You state that education is a soft science.

          Fact: Education research is rigorous, and peer-reviewed. One strand focuses on quantitative analysis which involves complex mathematics and statistics. Also, many Black people who pursue education research actually have backgrounds in the sciences.

          I suggest you become familiar with the wide range of educational research before making such characterizations.

          Also, research is pretty clear that Black students move away from STEM because of poor educational experiences not because of ability. More Black researchers and teachers, not less, are need to study these experiences and suggest solutions.

          Finally, one has to understand that STEM is over-valorized because it serves capitalist and militaristic agendas. STEM is no more valuable to human life than any other discipline. To suggest so is evidence that we need to teach more critical thinking in schools. STEM education and critical thinking are not synonymous.

          • “STEM is no more valuable to human life than any other discipline” (sic)

            Tell that to the people whose lives will be saved by the COVID vaccines developed by scientists at Pfizer, Moderna, et al.

            Doctors of education aren’t as helpful in this pandemic.

    • Blacks are making inroads as PhDs in Education, Psychology, and other social science based degrees. Progress in these areas are significant and a critical driver of reducing gaps in leadership positions in public college and university institutions, major agencies in government, and leaders of non-profits. This is also critical in creating more thought leaders that are respected and all this helps open the gates for more blacks to pursue STEM-based PhDs. As noted by someone earlier, many terminal degree professionals have background in STEM and the social science PhDs are needed (or perceived as valuable) by terminal degree candidates to fill large-scale leadership positions. In terms of earning power, everyone wins as the difference between PhD and bachelor degree holders is considered significant. Do not downplay what are significant achievements. Celebrate and encourage others to pursue their passions.

  2. Do I even have a doctorate?
    Yes. I have a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin and three master’s degrees from major universities. I am also a certified public accountant.

  3. Hey Dr. Carlos,

    Don’t waste your time debating Archer because he’s what many describe as an internal threat to the collective Black community on numerous levels. He has the Chutzpah to berate and besmirch so-called Black America even though he’s throughly miseducated even with his little MA and PhD. Archer has fragmented “White knowledge”. Archer need to return to his Third World island and defend it against the Europeans and from the PRC who are recolonizing all of the Caribbean. Archer, how do like that contextual Jerk Chicken!

  4. While I agree with your overall sentiments to ignore Archer. I wish to express that I very much believe that said person is not African or Caribbean, rather more than likely a white right winger here to troll these pages. As an African immigrant who has benefited from the opportunities afforded in United States and thoroughly understand how my certain privileges that many, especially African-Americans who have dealt with the brunt of racism and structural inequalities for generations, do not have, please do not let such individuals make you lose focus on the real threat to the black educational community and progress.

  5. More words written in the comments than in the article. Someone should do research on those who begin but don’t complete doctoral degrees including the reasons why they don’t finish. Truth is, earning a doctorate is serious business for any discipline. One of the most important factors is money. As an adult you need money. The “bank of Mom and Dad” probably doesn’t exist. You may have a family to support, or if you’re on your own have to find a way to make the rent and car payments. It’s hard to build academic relationships if you are commuting or running to your job after class. Conferences where you can meet and interact with your academic “tribe” cost money.

    Next one needs to consider the academic environment. Is it one that encourages rather than discourages? I’m sure we have all run across that professor, just like individuals in corporate America, who, no matter what, decide to make your life hell. Then it is up to you to decide stay and tough it out or to bail and in so doing carry the ABD label most of your life and a huge school loan bill because you didn’t get a “full ride” like some of your colleagues. Neil deGrasse Tyson has talked about his 1st attempt at a PhD it didn’t go well. How much poorer would the world of science and the general public at large be, had he not become an astrophysicist.

  6. There is nothing that makes STEM disciplines inherently better than others. The over-representation of Asians in STEM obscures their under-representation in other disciplines. Yet, I suspect that is not a concern for Archer, who also fails to understand that many Black folks who pursue graduate degrees in education often have STEM backgrounds of one sort or another. Most problematic in his statement is the implicit belief that Blacks do not the ability to pursue STEM degrees. In fact, ability is not the issue. It is poor education and socialization in science. Black students are routinely pushed out of STEM, usually because of implicit bias of teachers and hostile learning climates. Many Blacks pursue education to study and rectify these issues. Why leave Black students to the wolves? Other students do NOT encounter what Black students encounter. So, please do not resort to the worn-out reference to Asian Americans in STEM. It might surprise Mr. Archer to learn that even when Black students achieve at the highest levels, they are not given access to higher-level courses and opportunities. Teacher bias (typically white teachers) creeps in to reduce their odds of such placement. Here is a recent study on this fact, but there are many, many others:

    Faulkner, V. N., Stiff, L. V., Marshall, P. L., Nietfeld, J., & Crossland, C. L. (2014). Race and teacher evaluations as predictors of algebra placement. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 45(3), 288-311.

    The issue is not about ability or disposition of Black students, as implied by Archer. It is about quality of education, which includes systemic oppression and bias. White teachers make up about 85% of the teaching force. We need MORE Black teachers and scholars, not less. And as someone with multiple STEM degrees, I can see that society tends to valorize STEM, often because it is perceived as a white or Asian discipline.

    Archer has a PhD but, on this topic, he is woefully uninformed.

  7. The conversations are good. I have a Doctorate in Computer Science and have been in the Healthcare field for some time. I rarely if ever meet Doctorates in any STEM (none MD’s). The problem is the exposure in disadvantaged communities and lack of resources.

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