Building Strong Geoscience Departments > Professional Preparation > Employment Trends > National Perspectives on the Geosciences > What Changes Are Afoot?

What Changes Are Afoot?

Go back to the beginning of this presentation by Chris Keane of the American Geological Institute.

Statistical Profile of Academic Geoscience


Historical enrollment of US geoscience majors. This chart shows the number of reported geoscience majors (undergraduate and graduate) in the United States, collected annually by AGI in preparation of the annual Directory of Geoscience Departments. Of not is the presence of multiple curves starting in the early 1990's. Around this time, the accepted definition of geoscience began to change and become more encompassing, incorporating environmental science, meteorology, and oceanography programs. This phenomena is reflected in all of the major enrollment and degree data—AGI, NSF, and DOE. However, AGI collected enrollment numbers at the individual level, and not in departmental aggregate, so for consistency with historical data, we also present the number of Solid-Earth geoscience majors (Geology and Geophysics). The change in definition is also reflected in an increase in the number of geography and biology departments who have majors that are "geoscience"—usually in physical environmental studies.


Historical Geoscience Degrees Granted in the US. This chart shows the number of reported geoscience degrees (undergraduate and graduate) in the United States, collected annually by AGI in preparation of the annual Directory of Geoscience Departments. Of note is the presence of multiple curves starting in the early 1990's.


The rate of female participation in undergraduate geoscience education has continued to increase steadily since the early 1970's. Today, the geosciences are second only to biology for the highest rate of female participation in a science.


The make-up of research foci in the geosciences has changed substantially over the last 50 years, and the shift towards environmental research is clearly defined.


The same shifting trend is seen in the reported specialty area of faculty. Of note is the net decrease in faculty in 1980. This reflects the aggressive hiring of university geoscience faculty by the petroleum industry during the boom in the 1970's and 1980's.


US Geoscience Departments listed in the Directory of Geoscience Departments which offer a B.S. degree has seen a shift in their primary topical focus. The shift towards environment-oriented programs, both by the evolution of geology programs and the encroachment of geography and biology programs is apparent. Also note, that even with the spate of closures, the total number of identified geoscience departments has continued to increase.


US Geoscience Departments listed in the Directory of Geoscience Departments which offer a M.S. degree has seen a shift in their primary topical focus. The shift towards environment-oriented programs, both by the evolution of geology programs and the encroachment of geography and biology programs is apparent. Also note, that even with the spate of closures, the total number of identified geoscience departments has continued to increase.


US Geoscience Departments listed in the Directory of Geoscience Departments which offer a Ph.D. degree has seen a shift in their primary topical focus. The shift towards environment-oriented programs, both by the evolution of geology programs and the encroachment of geography and biology programs is apparent. Also note, that even with the spate of closures, the total number of identified geoscience departments has continued to increase.


Departmental Closures

Every five years, AGI does a census of geoscience departments. The most recent was in 2004, during which determined that 70 geoscience departments either closed or merged since 1999. Most of the programs that were affected were at community colleges and reflected marginal programs to start, with many being folded in physics programs and the geology courses phased out.

Another major cohort are dominantly BS-granting programs that had shifted from geology to environmental. It is difficult to ascertain if this shift precipitated their demise, or if it was a move to improve the attractiveness of an already weak program, which was already fatally wounded.

The third major cohort of change was across all levels for which the primary reason provided was that internal political problems within the departments became a managerial burden for intuitional leaders, and in response, they terminated the program and deployed the conflicting personalities to different parts of the institution to solve the problem.


This chart shows the change in the number of departments which give out the greatest number of degrees, by level. The trend shows in that fewer departments are giving out a much larger percentage of all degrees granted in the US. This is most pronounced at the Master's Level where fewer than 10 departments are awarding over half of all US geoscience master's degrees. This also shows the narrowing of programs that actually award (compared to offer) Master's degrees, and is supported by other AGI surveys which show that 82% of Master's granting departments view their programs as solely Ph.D. preparatory.


Diversity of Faculty Origins

On area of concern in a healthy discipline is a diverse "gene pool". One way to measure this is the origin of the faculty which teach the next generation of geoscientists. When one analyzes this, the number remain very consistent over the 45 years of data, in the approximately half of all faculty received their highest degree from 40 departments.

Graduate Schools of Faculty

Taking the previous analysis a step further, we see that by in large, faculty have been coming from the same departments for generations. When expanded to the second quartile, the list of programs is nearly identical.

First quartile of production

All-Time
1. California (Berkeley)
2. MIT
3. Columbia
4. Washington
5. Wisconsin
6. Stanford
7. Penn State
8. Illinois
9. Arizona
10. Harvard
11. California (Los Angeles)
12. Michigan
2000
1. Arizona
2. MIT
3. Texas
4. Columbia
5. Wisconsin
6. Georgia
7. Minnesota
8. Stanford
9. Delaware
10. California (Los Angeles)
11. Michigan
12. Florida

Introductory Geoscience Enrollments - 2004

One measure that we can make of public awareness of geoscience is how our primary outreach mechanism—introductory geoscience courses, are fairing. During a 2004 survey, AGI determined the following numbers:

When one puts this in perspective, both good and bad indicators come to light. With these enrollment rates, over 1 million current college students have taken geoscience (6% of the total). However, as an efficiency mechanism for building our supply line, only 0.1% of college students are geoscience majors today!

Where do students take intro geoscience?


« Previous Page      Next Page »