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Best online Ph.D. programs: Doctoral degrees ranked

An Asian man celebrating his doctorate degree graduation while looking at a laptop.

An online doctorate program has a lot in common with a traditional, in-person program. By studying online, you'll complete the same courses and classes on a schedule that accommodates yours. An online doctoral program includes research and dissertation requirements, all of which you complete under the guidance of a mentor. 

If you're looking for an undergraduate education first, we've compiled the  best online colleges to help with prerequisites.  

If you're already ready to further your education, We've ranked the schools offering the best online doctorates below. 

Top 5 online Ph.D. programs: Quick facts

What should i expect in an online ph.d. program.

An online Ph.D. is comparable to what on-campus learners experience. The program typically begins with coursework designed to build your fundamental understanding of the discipline alongside research essentials. 

Once you complete the required classes, you will sit for comprehensive exams and submit a dissertation or project proposal. This is something you develop with a mentor. 

As an online student, you'll connect one-on-one with faculty via online office hours, email, and video conferencing. A bad internet connection or technical difficulties can hinder you.  You may also need to or want to travel to meet with them personally.

Some online Ph.D. programs may provide you with a computer , while others have research resources to help you. 

Much of the research you undertake is done independently and requires self-motivation and dedication. Asking questions, reaching out for help, and remaining in close contact with your mentor is key throughout the process. 

The best online Ph.D. programs: Our picks

We picked the best online Ph.D. programs using ZDNet's ranking methodology. Our proprietary formula for assessing online doctoral degrees uses federally reported data, programmatic and professional outcomes, and industry insights. We consider the whole picture to offer an unbiased look at the top online Ph.D. programs. 

Unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System , College Scorecard , and each school's website. Note that for public colleges, the average annual net price given is for in-state students.

1. A.T. Still University Kirsville, Missouri

About the program: ATSU offers online doctoral programs in health professions, health administration, health sciences, medical science, and nursing practice. 

  • Acceptance rate: Not publicly available
  • Graduation rate: Not publicly available
  • Avg. annual tuition: $40,978
  • Time to completion: Varies
  • Average MCAT score : 505
  • Enrollment periods per year: Four
  • Course delivery method: Asynchronous and synchronous programs 

Accreditation: A.T. Still University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). 

2. Amridge University Montgomery, Alabama 

About the program: Dedicated to academic programs infused with the ideals and heritage of the Churches of Christ, Amridge offers six online Ph.D. programs alongside three doctor of ministry programs and one doctor of education degree.

  • Acceptance rate: 100%
  • Graduation rate: 32%
  • Avg. annual net price: $17,618
  • Time to completion: Three to seven years
  • Minimum GRE / GMAT / LSAT score: N/A
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery method: Asynchronous and synchronous 

Accreditation: Amridge University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). 

3. Andrews University Berrien Springs, Michigan

About the program: Steeped in the beliefs and traditions of the Seventh-day Adventist church, Andrews offers online doctoral programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, and education.

  • Acceptance rate: 49%
  • Graduation rate: 55%
  • Avg. annual net price: $23,408
  • Minimum GRE/GMAT/LSAT score: N/A
  • Enrollment periods per year: Varies

Accreditation: Andrews University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

4. Ball State University Muncie, Indiana

  • About the program: All of Ball State's online doctoral programs focus on education. Areas of study include adult and community education, educational administration and supervision, elementary education, and special education.
  • Acceptance rate: 87%
  • Graduation rate: 61%
  • Avg. annual net price: $14,765
  • Course delivery method: Asynchronous

Accreditation: Ball State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

5. Barry University Miami, Florida

About the program: Grounded in the Roman Catholic Dominican tradition, Barry offers online doctoral programs in nursing, occupational therapy, and education. 

  • Acceptance rate: 65%
  • Graduation rate: 48%
  • Avg. annual net price: $20,539
  • Minimum GRE/GMAT/LSAT score: GRE required, no minimum
  • Enrollment periods per year:  Three

Accreditation: Barry University is accredited by the Southern Commission of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

6. Baylor University Waco, Texas

About the program: A Baptist institution, Baylor offers online doctoral programs in occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing, and education.

  • Acceptance rate: 68%
  • Graduation rate: 76%
  • Avg. annual net price: $37,309
  • Enrollment periods per year:  Varies

Accreditation: Baylor University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

7. Bethel University Saint Paul, Minnesota

About the program: Bethel, the largest member of a 13-institution Baptist college consortium, offers online doctorates in K-12 education administration and higher education leadership.

  • Graduation rate: 71%
  • Avg. annual net price: $28,178
  • Time to completion: Three to five years

Accreditation: Bethel University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

8. Boston University Boston, Massachusetts

About the program: BU offers online doctoral programs in mechanical engineering and occupational therapy.

  • Acceptance rate: 20%
  • Graduation rate: 87%
  • Avg. annual net price: $30,395
  • Minimum GRE/GMAT/LSAT score: Varies

Accreditation: Boston University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

9. University of Massachusetts Global Irvine, California

About the program: Dedicated to serving non-traditional students and adult learners, UMass Global offers two online doctoral degrees: A education doctorate organizational leadership , and a post-masters to doctor of nursing practice program.

  • Acceptance rate: 93%
  • Graduation rate: 64%
  • Avg. annual net price: $26,346
  • Minimum GRE/GMAT/LSAT score: Not publicly available
  • Course delivery method: Asynchronous, synchronous, hybrid 

Accreditation: The University of Massachusetts Global is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

10. Brenau University Gainesville, Georgia

About the program: Brenau offers six online doctoral programs in education. Concentration areas include elementary education, higher education leadership, higher education teaching and learning middle grades, and special education. A degree completion program is also available.

  • Acceptance rate: 92%
  • Graduation rate: 44%
  • Avg. annual net price: $22,402
  • Time to completion: Two to five years
  • Enrollment periods per year:  One

Accreditation:  Brenau University is accredited by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). 

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Explore a range of online doctoral programs, including Ph.D. degrees, that offer accelerated paths, reduced residency requirements, and flexible online learning options.

Many degree programs fall under the title of doctorate, including Doctor of Philosophy degrees or Ph.D.

These Ph.D. degree programs are available in a variety of subjects and are intended to help students understand their specialty in the abstract and as a school of thought and theory rather than strictly as a practice.

Institutions that offer the best programs typically have exceptional funding, prestigious reputations, top-of-the-line research facilities, and abundant academic resources.

When selecting one of the shortest online doctoral programs or easiest online Ph.D. programs, you can access more info by visiting the links provided in each school description to ensure that you find the best program for you!

The easiest isn't always the shortest nor the shortest the easiest.

Doctorate Programs That Might Interest You

1-year Online Doctoral Programs | 18 Month Doctorate Programs Without Dissertation | Shortest Doctoral Programs Online and On-campus | Easiest Ph.D. to Get Online | Easiest PhD to Get (Traditional) | Free PhD Programs Online

Doctorate Degree vs PhD

Ph.D. programs focus more on the theoretical and abstract aspects of their respective fields of study to understand it as a school of thought rather than just a practical application.

Usual doctorate programs tend to be more practical in their study and focus on the application of knowledge rather than understanding more abstract perspectives.

Ph.D. degrees are often offered in the same fields that have standard doctoral degrees available usually offered in fields such as engineering, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

Doctorate programs are made up of advanced coursework, research projects, or thesis work almost strictly for practical application. Such degrees will get you ready to teach at the university level or help you advance to the leading edge of your field researching, serving, and creating.

Ph.D. and Doctorate degrees can often achieve the same ends and should be considered more or less equal in weight.

1 Year Ph.D. Programs Online

Chatham university.

Chatham offers a 1-year online DNP program for working nurses seeking advanced leadership roles. The intensive curriculum covers care delivery models, quality improvement, evidence-based practice, and informational systems. The program features synchronous online classes and immersive clinicals at sites nationwide. Students collaborate virtually with renowned faculty.

Within 12 months, students complete 36 credits and 1,000 clinical hours. Graduates can sit for Family Nurse Practitioner certification. Nurses with a BSN can enter the accelerated program. Applicants need an active RN license. This online DNP empowers nurses to rapidly earn doctoral credentials while working. It prepares graduates to advance as clinical, executive, research, and teaching leaders.

Breyer State Theology University

Breyer State Theology University offers a 1-year online PhD in Grief Counseling through its Department of Ethereal Studies. This accelerated program is tailored for working professionals seeking to advance their bereavement therapy career. The curriculum covers advanced grief counseling theories and interventions for diverse populations. Students gain expertise in areas like trauma-informed care, healing rituals, afterlife philosophies, and continuing bonds.

The online format combines asynchronous learning with live classes in an intimate cohort overseen by esteemed faculty. Students complete their dissertation in just one year. Graduates earn a PhD from BSU's pioneering metaphysical psychology department. This flexible doctoral program prepares students to progress their counseling practice or pursue academic research roles.

American International Theism University

American International Theism University (AITU) offers one-year online doctoral degrees for working professionals. Accelerated PhD tracks include Philosophy of Islamic Studies, Business Administration, Education, Finance, and Grief Counseling. Professional doctorates prepare leaders in Divinity, Sacred Music, Spiritual Psychotherapy, and more. The online programs blend video lectures, discussions, and immersive retreats. Curricula explore metaphysics, ethics, and wisdom traditions across faiths.

Within 12 months, students complete doctoral coursework, exams, and a dissertation overseen by distinguished faculty. Applicants should hold a relevant master's degree and background in theological studies or social sciences. These intensive online doctoral programs allow students to rapidly earn advanced credentials through flexible study with global peers. Graduates pursue roles driving innovation in spiritual care, research, and leadership.

Online Doctorate Programs That Might Interest You

15-18 month doctorate programs without dissertation, boston university.

Boston University offers a Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree program that can be completed in 18 months. The program consists of 10 courses, which are about 33 to 37 credits. Students may concentrate on various areas and can then choose what else they would prefer to learn to complete their credit requirements.

This is a fully online degree program that accelerates each semester’s worth of class to take only seven weeks to complete with new courses starting every September, January, and May. The program is available to doctoral students who have completed an accredited occupational therapy program. There are foundation courses, which include evidence-based practice and health care management, but no dissertation is necessary whereas a doctoral project is still required.

Frontier Nursing University

The Maryville University of St. Louis offers a Doctor of Nursing (DNP) program that is available online. The DNP program requires students to complete a total of 33 credit hours, including 18 to 20 months for completion. Many students in the online DNP program are working as nurses in the field, and this affords them a flexible program that allows many students to achieve their academic goals while active in the healthcare industry.

This course is an online program that does not require a GMAT or GRE. It may have a waiting list, but unlike other programs, it does not require clinical hours. The Doctorate in Higher Education Leadership is an online program that offers personal coaching throughout the process. It is a cohort learning method with online education, and students might need a bit more time to complete it.

Maryville University

Maryville University offers online doctoral degrees tailored for working professionals. Programs available fully online include Doctorates in Higher Education Leadership, Educational Leadership, Nursing Practice, Health Administration, Physical Therapy, and Occupational Therapy. The EdD programs prepare graduates for leadership and faculty roles in education. The DNP equips nurses for advanced clinical and executive practice.

Health Administration focuses on healthcare organizational development, quality, and finance. Licensed PTs and OTs can pursue clinical doctorates while working. Courses blend live online classes and self-paced learning. Programs leverage cutting-edge virtual labs and simulations. With a relevant master's degree, students can earn an accredited doctorate from Maryville University online to advance their careers.

24 Month Doctorate Programs

University of north carolina – chapel hill.

One option is to earn an online Ph.D. in Nursing, while another option is to earn their Medical Degree at the same time as their  Master of Business Administration , but the Transitional Doctoral Program in Physical therapy may be earned in 24 months fully online. This part-time program provides online learning courses to help licensed physical therapists enhance their skills and gain access to higher career options. Some credits can be earned through workplace applications.

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University offers over a dozen online doctoral degrees tailored for working professionals. GCU provides online EdD tracks in Organizational Leadership, Higher Education Leadership, and K-12 Leadership. Other doctorates cover psychology, nursing, business, and more. Programs blend asynchronous and live virtual classes focused on applying concepts. Specialized tracks allow customization.

Online students get personalized faculty support and access to robust digital resources. Within 2 years (or less), learners complete coursework, residencies, exams, and a dissertation to earn an accredited doctoral degree from GCU. With flexible and practical curricula, GCU enables busy professionals to obtain doctorates fully online and further their careers.

Liberty University

Liberty University offers a Doctor of Education degree program that can be completed fully online. The minimum time to earn the degree is about 30 months for completion of all 54 credits. The courses are each 8 weeks long and no dissertation is required. The Doctor of Education degree program provides a curriculum that focuses on developing innovative programs, as well as a capstone project.

University of West Georgia

The University of West Georgia offers several online doctoral degree options for working professionals seeking advanced training. UWG provides online doctorates in School Improvement, Nursing Education, Professional Counseling and Supervision, and Higher Education Administration. The EdD programs focus on data-driven leadership strategies and developing administrative expertise.

The DNP prepares nurses to improve care systems and patient outcomes. Coursework blends synchronous evening classes and self-paced learning for flexibility. Experiential projects allow application to careers. With a relevant master's degree, students can earn an accredited doctorate fully online from UWG to advance as leaders in their field.

Shortest Ph.D. Programs Online and On-campus

Obtaining a Ph.D. can be a long-term commitment and many doctoral programs can take over five years to complete. To help busy working professionals looking to jumpstart their careers and those looking to begin their careers at a high level, this list serves as a simple reference guide, compiling information on some of the shortest doctoral programs in the country.

These online degree programs operate in full-time, part-time, fully online, or hybrid formats.

  • Baylor University - online EdD in Learning and Organizational Change, 54 credits, 36 months
  • Maryville University - online Doctor of Nursing Practice (Online DNP), 20 months, no GRE or no GMAT requirement
  • University of Dayton - online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Leadership for Organizations, 36 months, 60 credits
  • Capella University - online Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision, 0 max transfer credits, 60 credits, CACREP accredited
  • Franklin University - online Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), 58 credit hours, transfer up to 24 hours of previously earned credit, 36 months + 1 year for dissertation
  • Walden University - online Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology, up to 53 credits, fast-track option, earn MPhil at the same time
  • Frontier Nursing University - online Doctor of Nursing Practice, MSN with DNP, 675 clinical hours for MSN plus 360 additional for DNP
  • Boston University - Online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy, PP-OTD, 33-37 credits
  • University of Florida - online MSN to DNP, 35 credits, five semesters
  • Gwynedd Mercy University - Accelerated Executive Doctorate of Education ABD (All But Dissertation) Completion Program, online EdD , 27 credit hours, 18 months
  • Duquesne University - Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), 35 credit hours
  • The College of St. Scholastica - Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy, online tDPT, 16 credits
  • Liberty Univesity - Doctor of Ministry, online DMin, 30 credit hours, 24 months
  • University of Florida - Doctor of Nursing Practice, MSN to DNP, 35 credits, 5 semesters
  • University of North Dakota - Post-Master's Doctor of Nursing Practice, online DNP, 36 credit hours, 5 semesters
  • Seton Hall University - Doctor of Nursing Practice, online DNP, 31+ credits for post-MSN students, 73-79 credits for post-BSN students
  • Regis University - Doctor of Nursing Practice, online DNP , 28-33 credit hours, 8-week terms
  • Georgia State University - Curriculum and Instruction EdD, Educational Leadership EdD, on-campus EdD, 54 credit hours
  • Bowling Green State University   - Technology Management, web-based Ph.D., 66 credit hours
  • Hampton University - Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Management, online Ph.D., 60 credit hours
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania - Safety Sciences, online Ph.D., 54 credit hours
  • East Carolina University   - Doctor of Nursing Practice, hybrid online DNP

Easiest Ph.D. Programs Online & On-Campus

To be sure, at the Ph.D. level, no program could be considered "easy," but there are certain programs designed to be "easier" than others. Generally, education, humanities, and the social sciences are considered the easiest fields in which to pursue degrees.

With that in mind, our list of the easiest Ph.D. programs includes schools and programs that offer significantly reduced residency requirements, accelerated courses, credit transfers, and integrated dissertation colloquia.

The rankings below display schools with accreditation from at least one of the six regional accrediting agencies , and all offer at least one virtual Ph.D. degree. Accredited online Ph.D. programs are also organized according to the U.S. News and World Report and Forbes Magazine rankings.

Easiest Online Ph.D. Programs & Online Doctoral Programs

  • WALDEN UNIVERSITY - 156 Online Doctoral Programs
  • REGENT UNIVERSITY - 81 online doctorate degrees, 6 Ph.D. programs online
  • HAMPTON UNIVERSITY - 5 online doctoral degree programs
  • UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA - 8 online doctoral degree programs
  • UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI - 4 online doctorate programs
  • COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY - 3 online Ph.D. programs, 1 online doctoral program
  • UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA - 12 online Ph.D. programs, 3 online doctoral programs
  • NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY -  10 online doctorate programs, 8 online Ph.D. programs
  • LIBERTY UNIVERSITY -  19 online Ph.D. programs, 16 online doctorate programs

Easiest Ph.D. to Get (Traditional)

The easiest doctorate degree can vary depending on your interests, skills, and strengths. However, here is a list of doctorate degrees that are mentioned as potentially less difficult to obtain:

  • Business Administration: This program focuses on business development, design, methods, tools, and professional ethics. A Ph.D. in Business Administration can be a good choice for professionals looking to advance their careers in business.
  • Counseling: A doctorate in counseling allows you to specialize in areas such as human behavior, social psychology, counseling supervision, or specific therapy approaches. This degree can lead to advanced career opportunities in healthcare and social services.
  • Criminal Justice: This program equips you with research skills and the ability to analyze data in the field of criminal justice. It can open doors to various career paths, including emergency management, forensic departments, and information security sectors.
  • Education: A doctorate in education focuses on enhancing educational research skills and preparing for leadership roles in educational institutions. It can lead to administrative positions in universities, professional departments, or elementary and secondary schools.
  • Healthcare Administration: This program prepares you for leadership roles in the business aspect of the medical industry. It covers topics such as policies, ethics, group management, hospital administration, and advanced patient care.
  • Human Services: A doctorate in human services prepares you for leadership positions within organizations that help underserved populations. It focuses on policies, legislation, rights, ethics, and protocols for serving within human services organizations.
  • Management: This program provides practical skills applicable to various industry settings. It covers areas such as financial management, system management, conflict management, and human resources management.
  • Public Administration: A doctorate in public administration develops managerial and strategic planning skills for administrative roles in different industries. It offers coursework in ethics of management, public policy, strategic planning, performance management, employee evaluation, and economics of administration.
  • Public Health: This program equips you with advanced training and research skills for the healthcare industry. It focuses on leadership and management roles in public health, emphasizing innovative thinking and communication mastery.
  • Public Policy: A doctorate in public policy focuses on theory, ethics, research, and practice in public service programs. It prepares you to analyze and propose policies to improve communities and societies.
  • Psychology: A doctorate in psychology combines research skills with professional practice. It can lead to careers as addictions counselors, applied researchers, professional consultants, or clinical psychologists.
  • Theology: A doctorate in theology explores divine and spiritual traditions through academics, research, and religious studies. It can lead to careers as professors, social service managers, private school teachers, or directors of religious education.

Please note that the difficulty of a doctorate degree can vary depending on individual circumstances, personal strengths, and the specific requirements of each program. It's important to thoroughly research and consider your own interests, skills, and career goals before deciding on a doctorate program.

Free Ph.D. Programs Online (Fully Funded)

According to Best-Universities.net .

  • Brown University - Fully-funded Ph.D. program in computer science
  • University of Houston-Downtown - Full scholarship program for online doctorate
  • Devry University - Comprehensive scholarship program for online degrees
  • University of Maryland-Baltimore County - Full scholarship program for online undergraduate and graduate degrees
  • Wilson Community College - Full scholarship program for community college students
  • University of Leeds - Up to 30 fully-funded online Ph.D. programs
  • University of the Witwatersrand - Comprehensive scholarship program for online bachelor's or master's degrees
  • The University of Texas at Dallas - Full scholarship program for online bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees
  • University of Strathclyde - Full scholarship program for online undergraduate or master's degrees
  • Emory University - Fully-funded online Ph.D. program in economics
  • New York University - Fully-funded Ph.D. program in childhood education
  • University of Pennsylvania - Fully-funded online Ph.D. program in educational leadership and policy

If you're not looking for an accelerated program , the list below displays some of the best traditional Ph.D. programs in the country, according to Study.com.

Best Ph.D. Programs in the U.S.

Guide to online doctorate degrees.

Fewer positions requiring this advanced level qualification and reduced competition for such job opportunities among job seekers are some of the reasons behind the few doctoral graduates.

With technological advancements in almost all areas of life, acquiring education, a significantly advanced level of education has become more accessible.

Graduate students now do not have to attend physical classes to pursue their dreams of developing and advancing their skills.

You can pursue your doctorate in the comfort of your home or even your office. There was a 20% growth in students granted doctorate degrees between the 2009/2010 and 2019/2020 academic years, according to NCES. This growth has been attributed in part to online Ph.D. programs and the streamlining of modern universities.

Online Ph.D. programs are a relatively newer idea and online schooling in general has greatly increased access, flexibility, and convenience.

Students typically complete these degrees soon after completing a Master’s degree in the same area. As such, and with bachelor's degrees being necessary stepping stones, students can expect their journey from primary school to a Ph.D. to take about nine years, barring any accelerated tracks and failed classes.

Cost of an Online Doctoral Degree Program

When choosing any doctoral degree program, it is crucial to evaluate the costs and salary after attending. Even though online Ph.D. courses may usually be cheaper than on-campus learning, secondary schooling is rarely cheap and not every field will allow you to make back the cost in a reasonable amount of time.

Tuition, materials, technology, transportation, housing, and groceries should all be factors brought into account when deciding whether or where to attend, and in what field you can find the most success and fulfillment.

Below are the annual tuition rates of different institutions as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

  • Private-For profit institutions- $18,200
  • Private-Not for-profit institutions- $37,600
  • Public institutions- $9,400

Choosing an Online Doctoral Degree Program

Since doctoral programs require considerable investments of money and time, it is important to consider every factor before deciding on a school or program. Take some time to consider the marketability, cost, and difficulty of each program and your own interest in the subject. To reach your career and educational goals, do your best research.

How Long Does it Take to Get a PhD

The length of a Ph.D. program can vary, but it typically takes 3 to 6 years to complete.

  • A Ph.D. program typically takes 5 to 6 years in the United States.
  • A Ph.D. program typically takes 3 to 4 years in the UK and many other European countries.

The actual length of a Ph.D. program can be influenced by many factors, including the nature of the research, the student's progress, the advisor's availability, and funding considerations.

  • Some students may finish in less time, while others may take longer.
  • Part-time Ph.D. programs are also available, which can take longer to complete.

Here is a table summarizing the length of Ph.D. programs in different countries:

Top 50 doctorate-granting institutions ranked by the total number of doctorate recipients, by sex: 2020

Tied institutions are listed alphabetically.

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Earned Doctorates.

Doctorate recipients from U.S. colleges and universities: 1958–2020

(Number and percent) * = value < |0.05%|.

State or location of doctorate institution ranked by the total number of doctorate recipients, by sex: 2020

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