Only 363 mathematics doctorates were awarded to Americans last year, contributing to a decade-long trend that could be reversed if more attention were given to math at all levels of education, a top mathematician says.

A total of 804 doctorates in mathematics were awarded by U.S. institutions between July 1, 1987, and June 30, 1988, but only 45 percent went to American citizens, said Edward Connors, a University of Massachusetts mathematician who conducts an annual survey of doctorates conferred in math.A decade ago - during the 1977-78 academic year - a total of 868 mathematics doctorates were awarded by U.S. institutions, with 634 (73 percent) of those degrees going to American citizens, Connors' survey shows.

Part of the decrease in the number of mathematics doctorates can be attributed to the birth of what Connors calls "glamorous" math-related fields like computer and information science and electrical engineering.

"Mathematics is not a sexy field," said Connors, past chairman of the University of Massachusetts mathematics department. "There's an awful lot of glitter in computer science and engineering. Those areas are much more attractive to students."

Still, Connors said universities are not doing enough to let students know that they can apply a mathematics education to other fields. "We really haven't done what we should have been doing to let students know what math can do as a career preparation," he said.

"Look at a business person. You take that person with a background in mathematics and put him through an MBA program and you've got a hot prospect there," Connors said.

However, the root of the problem, Connors said, begins at elementary school levels, where students are improperly trained by underrated teachers.

If the trend does not change, Connors predicts the United States could be faced with a three-fold problem by the year 2000.

"It's a triple whammy that's going to occur at the turn of the century," Connors warned. "We're going to be retiring our current teachers, and at the same time we're going to have a downturn of 25- to 30-year-olds, who are the replacements for those teachers. Then you will have an increase in early childhood-aged children who will need those teachers. That's why I call it the triple whammy."