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Indicator II-10 Advanced 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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Figures II-10a and II-10b updated 9/6/2013 with degree data for 2011. The trend lines have also been extended from 1966 back to 1948.

See the
Note on the Data Used to Calculate Advanced Humanities Degree Counts and Shares and the Note on the Definition of Advanced Degrees.

As was the case at the bachelor’s degree level (see Indicator II-1, Undergraduate Degrees in the Humanities), the past six decades have seen dramatic growth, marked decline, and then recovery of the academic humanities with respect to the completion of advanced degrees. As Figures II-10a and II-10b illustrate, the numbers of master’s and doctoral degree completions in the “core” humanities disciplines1 increased substantially after World War II, with only a brief dip in the latter half of the 1950s. The number of degrees conferred at both levels increased more than fivefold from 1955 to the early 1970s, as the number of master’s degrees peaked at 21,542 in 1971, while the number of doctorates peaked at 4,708 in 1973. From that point, the number of degrees tumbled. By the mid-1980s the humanities were awarding less than half as many advanced degrees as in the early 1970s.

Figure II-10a, Full Size
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Figure II-10b, Full Size
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The trend reversed yet again in the 1980s. By 1994 the number of master’s degrees had risen back to 68% of its peak in 1971. Following a decline in the late 1990s, master’s degree completions picked up again in 2002 and increased almost every year through 2011 when 17,398 master’s degrees were awarded in the core humanities disciplines. The trend in doctorate completions generally followed the same trajectory as the number of master’s degrees (albeit with a brief lag in time). Humanities doctorates reached the height of their recovery in 1998, when the number reached almost 80% of the 1973 peak. Doctorate completions then declined through 2005 before picking up again in the latter part of the decade. The 2011 total of 3,686 degrees constituted 78% of 1973’s historic high.

The National Center for Education Statistics’ Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) allows for a fuller accounting of all disciplines in the humanities field. When CIP is used to tally humanities degrees conferred since 1987, the levels for master’s degrees are 40–50% higher and those for doctorates are approximately one-third higher. For an explanation of the differences between the two trend lines, see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Advanced Humanities Degree Counts and Shares.

Graduate humanities programs, like their undergraduate counterparts, experienced a substantial loss of share over the 1970s and 1980s—that is, a reduction in the number of all advanced degrees awarded in the core humanities relative to the number awarded in other fields. While the absolute numbers of advanced degrees conferred in the humanities rose well above the mid-1980s low, even more substantial growth in the numbers of advanced degrees awarded in other fields served to keep the humanities’ share of all master’s and doctoral degrees well below the record levels observed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. From the mid-1980s through 2011 the core humanities’ share of all master’s and professional degrees ranged from a quarter to slightly over a third of the 1967 peak share. While the 1990s saw fairly steady increases in the humanities’ share of all doctoral degrees, the proportion shrank again during the first half of the next decade. Even with a subsequent uptick in completions, in 2011 the humanities’ share was less than half of its 1973 high and considerably lower than the 10–12% plateau that lasted from 1948 until the mid-1960s.

Since the late 1980s, humanities master’s degrees have constituted less than 5% of all degrees awarded at the master’s and professional degree level, when degrees are classified using CIP (Figure II-10c; see the Note on the Definition of Advanced Degrees). This is a small proportion relative to the shares awarded by such fields as education and the social service professions, which together awarded 27% of degrees at this level in 2010, and business, which bestowed 22% of such degrees. At the doctoral level, the percentage of degrees awarded in the humanities has been somewhat greater, ranging from 7% to 11% of all degrees over this time period (Figure II-10d).2 In contrast, science degrees represented 43–49% of all doctorates during the same period.

Figure II-10c, Full Size
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Figure II-10d, Full Size
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1 English language and literature, history, languages and literatures other than English (including linguistics and classics), and philosophy.

2 The appearance of a dramatic shrinkage in 2010 in the share of doctoral degrees awarded in health science is attributable to a recent change made by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the way it asks institutions to classify doctorates (please see the Note on the Definition of Advanced Degrees for a detailed description of this shift and the steps that the Humanities Indicators has taken to help ensure comparability of the advanced degree counts it provides for different years).

Through 2009, many advanced degrees in the health sciences were classified by awarding institutions not as “first professional” degrees (the way in which NCES requires M.D.’s be classified) but as doctorates. With the elimination by NCES of the generic doctoral degree category in 2010, institutions began classifying such degrees as “professional practice” doctoral degrees, which the Humanities Indicators includes in its master’s degree and professional degree counts. This change in the classification of health service doctorates, in combination with the relatively small number of doctoral degrees completed each year, creates the false impression that the health sciences field experienced a profound loss of doctorate “market share”.

Note on the Definition of Advanced Degrees

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Glossary, master’s degrees are “awards that require the successful completion of a program of study of at least the full-time equivalent of 1 academic year, but not more than 2 academic years of work beyond the bachelor’s degree.”

The NCES, which collects the degree completion data presented as part of the Humanities Indicators, defines first professional degrees as those awards that require completion of a program that meets all the following criteria: (1) completion of the academic requirements to begin practice in a profession; (2) at least two years of college work prior to entering the program; and (3) a total of at least six academic years of college work to complete the degree program, including prior required college work plus the length of the professional program itself. According to NCES, the following ten fields award first professional degrees:
Chiropractic (D.C. or D.C.M.)
Dentistry (D.D.S. or D.M.D.)
Law (LL.B. or J.D.)
Medicine (M.D.)
Optometry (O.D.)
Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)
Podiatry (D.P.M., D.P., or Pod.D.)
Theology (M.Div., M.H.L., B.D., or Ordination)
Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.)
Although some fields (e.g., library science, hospital administration, and social work) require specialized degrees for employment at the professional level, NCES does not count degrees in these fields as first professional degrees; instead, they are treated as master’s degrees.

Whereas all doctorates had previously been included in a single category, for academic years 2008–2009 and 2009–2010 NCES gave schools the option of employing a new classification system that distinguishes among three types of doctoral degrees:
Research/Scholarship—A Ph.D. or other doctoral degree that requires advanced work beyond the master’s level, including the preparation and defense of a dissertation based on original research, or the planning and execution of an original project demonstrating scholarly achievement;
Professional Practice—A doctoral degree conferred upon completion of a program providing the knowledge and skills for the recognition, credentialing, or licensing required for professional practice; or
Other—A doctoral degree that does not meet the definition of the research/scholarship or professional practice doctorate.
Schools could classify certain degrees that had historically been treated as first professional degrees as either “Professional Practice” doctoral degrees (as in the case of medical degrees, for example) or master’s degrees (as in the case of advanced, nondoctoral degrees in theology).

To ensure comparability with previous years, for 2007–2008 and 2008–2009 the Humanities Indicators counted as doctorates all of those degrees classified by postsecondary institutions as “Doctorate Degree,” “Doctorate Degree—Research/Scholarship,” or “Doctorate Degree—Other.” The HI treated as “master’s and professional degrees” those degrees classified by schools as “Doctorate Degree—Professional Practice,” “First Professional Degree,” or “Master’s Degree.”

For academic year 2010–2011, NCES eliminated the “first professional degree” category. The agency now requires schools to use the three-category system described above to classify all advanced degrees other than master’s degrees.

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Note on the Data Used to Calculate Advanced 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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