Nationally minority groups are slowly earning more doctorate degrees — but in Utah, numbers from those same groups remain low.

The most recent findings from the National Opinion Research Center show Asians, blacks and Hispanics graduating with more doctorates than ever. About 19 percent of those U.S. citizens earning doctorates last year were from racial/ethnic minority groups.

Blacks, followed by Asians and Hispanics, earned the most doctorates in 2002.

American women also showed gains, earning 13,112 doctorates in 2002 while men earned 12,823, according to the Research Center's recent Survey of Earned Doctorates.

A total of 39,955 doctorates were awarded by U.S. colleges and universities in 2002, almost 9,000 more than 10 years ago.

Utah ranked 32nd in the country in number of doctorates awarded. California, New York and Texas were the top three states awarding the most doctorate degrees, the survey shows.

American Indians earned fewer doctorates, 146, in 2002 than they did in 1992, when they received 149.

Doctorates awarded to those listed in the survey as "white" were actually down more than 2,400 from the number awarded in 1997.

In Utah, a state known to be far less diverse than most, only 22 doctorates were awarded for 2001-02 to those listed as black/non-Hispanic, American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacific Islander and Hispanic.

Utah's public and private institutions granted a total of 350 doctorates for the 2001-02 academic year, according to the Utah System of Higher Education. Of those, 92 degrees went to "nonresident aliens." While more males than females in Utah earn doctorates, the edge on total number of all degrees goes to women, with 16,140 compared to 15,465 for men in 2001-02.

The Research Center concluded that many minorities were likely first-generation doctoral students, a group that faces a greater challenge in financing their education.

A major step toward narrowing the doctoral gap between minorities and whites is outreach, says Gail Norris of the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority.

Public and higher education need to do better at getting the word out to families that they should start saving when children are young to lessen the need for financial aid when they reach the door to higher education.

And children need reminders that they should start thinking about academic preparation as early as seventh grade, Norris said.

Additionally, outreach needs to include the message that the more education a person has, the better his or her earning potential, said Maria Sweeten, the only Hispanic member of the State Board of Regents, which oversees higher education in Utah. She said a more diverse pool of instructors is needed to get more minorities interested in higher education.

Access for minorities to public universities has improved, Norris added, but financial barriers get in the way. At the graduate level, those barriers tend to grow. One initiative helping at both levels, Norris said, is that schools are more actively recruiting minorities, which in part may explain why they're earning more doctorates.

Yet another piece of the puzzle involves getting more minorities into influential roles.

"We need to get people to train to be teachers and role models," Norris said.