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Florida gets mixed grades on doctorate degrees

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As Florida looks to improve its higher-education system, a federal survey of doctorate degrees shows the state is competitive with the nation but should have a higher ranking based on its size.

The "survey of earned doctorates," which is compiled each year by six federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, NASA and the National Institutes of Health, showed Florida, the nation's third-largest state, ranked seventh among the 50 states, with 2,364 research doctorates awarded in the 2014-15 academic year. It was the same ranking achieved in the prior year, although the doctorate total increased by 89 degrees.

Florida produces fewer than half of the more than 6,000 research degrees awarded in California, the top state, and about 60 percent of the more than 4,000 doctorates awarded each by New York and Texas in 2015.

In the longer term, Florida has not improved its position much over the past decade, ranking eighth in the 2005-06 state survey, with 1,815 research doctorates.

The survey assesses doctorates awarded in major science and engineering fields, but also includes non-science doctorates in areas like education, humanities, history and communication. It does not include professional degrees in law, medicine, pharmacy and other areas that are a large part of the graduate education system in Florida and across the nation.

The University of Florida and Florida State University were the only two state schools among the top-50 institutions granting research doctorates in 2015. Florida was ranked No. 6 with 747 degrees and FSU was No. 45 with 383 research doctorates. The top school was the University of Michigan with 852 degrees.

UF and FSU officials said they had slightly higher counts of research degrees in the 2014-15 academic year, with Florida at 753 and FSU at 424.

The difference may be attributed to the varying definitions of a "research" doctorate, with some counts including disciplines that other surveys do not use. In fact, the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's university system, reported 2,136 research doctorates in 2014-15, which was about 228 degrees lower than the National Science Foundation's count for the state.

Despite the variance, trends can be seen. Over the last decade, UF moved from No. 13 on the list of top-50 institutions to No. 6. FSU has remained about the same on top-50 list, although it is awarding about 100 more research doctorates per year now.

As part of its overall effort to become a top-25 public university, FSU is advancing an ambitious plan to attract and retain more faculty members, boost graduate assistantships and postdoctoral researchers, which all could lead to awarding more research doctorates in the future.

Research doctorates are on the rise at other Florida public universities, with the University of Central Florida increasing its research doctorates by 35 percent since 2006, with 241 degrees.

Florida International University has doubled its research doctorates to 173 in 2015. Florida Atlantic University has increased its research doctorates by a third over the last decade to 99 in 2015.

The national survey also includes private institutions that award research doctorates, with the University of Miami the top private school in Florida, with 206 degrees in 2015.

Research doctorates are only a part of the advanced-degree system in Florida. More graduate students earned professional degrees than research doctorates in 2014-15, according to the Board of Governors.

Florida awarded 2,711 professional degrees in 2015, including 864 law degrees, 585 pharmacy degrees and 581 medical degrees.