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Indicator II-1 Undergraduate Degrees in the Humanities
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,"
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Figure II-1a updated 7/26/2013 with degree data for 2011. The trend line has also been extended from 1966 back to 1948.

See the
Note on the Data Used to Calculate Undergraduate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares.

Since the Second World War, the trend in undergraduate humanities majors has passed through three distinct phases. As Figure II-1a demonstrates, from the mid-1950s to 1971 the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the “core” humanities disciplines of English language and literature, history, languages and literatures other than English (including linguistics and classics), and philosophy1 rose steadily to just over 130,000 degrees conferred.2

Figure II-1a, Full Size
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After 1971, the trend reversed, with the annual number of humanities degrees conferred declining through the 1970s and into the mid-1980s, so that by 1985 the humanities were awarding less than half the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in the early 1970s. By the late 1980s the situation had begun to improve, and in the early years of the following decade the number of bachelor’s degrees crested again, rising back above 100,000. Following a modest decline toward the end of the 1990s, the number of degrees conferred on humanities majors increased throughout the 2000s before declining in the two most recent years reported here (2010 and 2011).

Note that this is not the only way of assessing the number of students receiving degrees in the humanities. With the introduction of the finer-grained Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP), the U.S. Department of Education has enabled more complete tabulations of degrees conferred in the humanities, starting with degrees conferred in 1987. The CIP allows the inclusion of degrees in additional humanities disciplines such as area and gender studies, nonvocational religious studies, and some art studies. The more encompassing CIP-based tally of 185,148 humanities degrees in 2011 is appreciably higher than the 1971 zenith for the core humanities. (For an explanation of the advantages of using the CIP to tally humanities degree completions, see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Undergraduate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares.) For an inventory of the specific degree programs that together constitute the academic humanities as they are conceptualized by the Humanities Indicators, see the NSF and CIP Discipline Code Catalog.)

As a percentage of all degrees, the core humanities remained in the 10–11% range from 1948 until the late 1950s, when the humanities share began to increase steadily, cresting at 17.2% in 1967. Along with the drop in absolute numbers of humanities bachelor’s degrees that occurred over the course of the 1970s and early 1980s, the humanities experienced a substantial decline in their share of all bachelor’s degrees. Although the number of humanities degree completions increased thereafter, so did the total number of bachelor’s degrees awarded. Consequently, the humanities’ share of all bachelor’s degrees remains well below the 1970s high. When core degrees are counted, the humanities’ share of all bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2011, 6.9%, was less than half the 1967 high. When CIP categories are used for tabulation purposes, humanities degrees represented 11.1% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2011. By either measure, the share of all degrees that were earned in the humanities declined approximately 7% from 2009 to 2011.

In 2010 the share of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the humanities (11.5%) was approximately 19 percentage points smaller than that for the sciences (Figure II-1b). The humanities also awarded a substantially smaller proportion of bachelor’s degrees than the business and management field, which produced 21.5% of all such degrees.

Figure II-1b, Full Size
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The number of students who complete a “second major” in the humanities (i.e., a degree in a humanities discipline earned at the same time as another degree in a nonhumanities field or a different humanities discipline) has risen steadily since 2001, the year for which NCES first collected data on such degrees (Figure II-1c). In 2010, 22,709 humanities second majors were completed by undergraduates at U.S. institutions of higher learning. This figure represents a 72% increase over the 2001 level. In 2010, second majors in the humanities were completed by approximately 1.4% of bachelor’s degree recipients, up from 1.1% in 2001.

Figure II-1c, Full Size
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1 The HI takes these disciplines as its focus because together they constitute the majority of humanities degrees and also because they are the only disciplines for which comparable data are available that allow for the construction of a long-term trend.

2 The degree counts and shares depicted in Figures II-1a and II-1b do not include “second majors” in the humanities. Data on such degrees are presented in Figure II-1c.

Note on the Data Used to Calculate Undergraduate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares

The bulk of the data that form the basis of this indicator is drawn from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS; 1966–1986) and its successor, the Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS; 1987–present), through which institutions of higher learning report on the numbers and characteristics of students completing degree programs (as well as a variety of other topics; for more on IPEDS, see The HEGIS/IPEDS degree-completion data have been made accessible to decision-makers, researchers, and the general public by the National Science Foundation (NSF) via its online data analysis tool WebCASPAR.

Degree-completion data for years 1948 through 1965 were derived from the Survey of Earned Degrees, which was first administered by the Office of Education (the Department of Education’s predecessor) and later by NCES. The Survey of Earned Degrees data were culled from printed publications, because the information is not included in WebCASPAR. For the trend lines extending back to 1948, data are presented only for a limited portfolio of humanities disciplines, because the academic discipline classification systems employed by NCES in its reporting on the Survey of Earned Degrees and HEGIS are not fine-grained enough to capture the full complement of disciplines considered by the Humanities Indicators (HI) to be within the scope of the humanities. (For an inventory of the disciplines and activities treated as part of the humanities by the HI, see the Statement on the Scope of the “Humanities” for Purposes of the Humanities Indicators.)

For 1987 and later years (1995 and later for data on the race/ethnicity of degree recipients), however, WebCASPAR categorizes earned degrees according to the more detailed Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP). The CIP was first developed by NCES in 1980 as a way of accounting for the tremendous variety of degree programs offered by American institutions of higher learning and has been revised three times since its introduction, most recently in 2009 (this version is referred to as “CIP 2010”). The CIP has also been adopted by Statistics Canada as its standard disciplinary classification system. An analysis of completions using CIP permits the HI to include earned degrees in a substantially greater number of the disciplines considered by the HI to be part of the humanities field.

With CIP-coded data academic disciplines such as comparative religion can be separated from vocational programs such as theology and thus can be included in the humanities degree tally. Additionally, when using CIP-coded data, the HI can include degrees in such disciplines as archeology, women’s studies, gay and lesbian studies, and Holocaust studies in its counts of humanities degrees from 1987 onward.1 For an inventory of the CIP disciplinary categories included by the HI under the field heading of “humanities” (as well as those categories of the NSF-developed taxonomy of academic disciplines that are the basis of the HI’s tabulations of 1) degrees in nonhumanities fields and 2) certain tabulations of humanities degrees for years 1966–1986), see the NSF and CIP Discipline Code Catalog. This catalog also indicates which degree programs the HI includes within specific humanities disciplines (e.g., for the purposes of the HI, English degrees include those classified under CIP as being in “English Language and Literature,” “American Literature,” and “Creative Writing,” among others).

In the case of several of the degree-related indicators, the humanities are compared to certain other fields such as the sciences and engineering. The nature of these fields is specified in the Statement on the Scope of the “Humanities” for Purposes of the Humanities Indicators. These broad fields do not encompass all postsecondary programs. Therefore, where fields are being compared in terms of their respective shares of all degrees, the percentages will not add up to 100%. Also, none of the graphs showing change over time in the share of degrees awarded to members of traditionally underrepresented ethnic/minority groups includes a data point for the academic year 1999, because the NCES did not release such data for that year.

The bachelor’s degree counts presented in Figures II-1a and II-1b do not include “second majors,” because NCES began collecting data about these degrees only in 2001. The HI deals separately with the issue of second majors in Figure II-1c (“Humanities Bachelor’s Degrees Earned as ‘Second Majors,’ 2001–2010”).

Data on the number of students completing minors are not collected as part of IPEDS, but such information was compiled for selected humanities disciplines as part of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences–sponsored Humanities Departmental Survey (HDS; see the HDS final report, page 8, Table 12).


1 For those indicators reporting only degree data for years 1987 and onward (1995 and onward for the charts and tables describing the proportions of all degrees received by members of traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic minority groups), CIP-coded data are always the basis of the humanities degree counts presented.

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