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Indicator II-11 Disciplinary Distribution of 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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Updated (12/12/2012) with data for academic year 2010 (July 1, 2009–June 30, 2010).

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

In 2010, at both the master’s and doctoral degree levels, English was the most common area in which advanced degrees in the humanities were completed. Approximately a third of all humanities master’s degrees and 28% of all doctoral degrees were awarded by English departments (Figures II-11a and II-11b; data are provided only for 2010, the most current year for which information is available, because the disciplinary distribution of graduate degrees has changed little since 1987, the first year for which such data are available; see the Note on Data Used to Calculate Advanced Humanities Degree Counts and Shares).

Figure II-11a, Full Size
Supporting Data Supporting Data
Figure II-11b, Full Size
Supporting Data Supporting Data

At the master’s level, general humanities degrees represented approximately 15% of all humanities degrees, making them—along with history, which granted a similar number of degrees—the second most common type of humanities degree awarded. At the doctoral level, the percentage of general degrees was far smaller. History and languages and literatures other than English awarded larger shares of degrees at the doctoral level than at the master’s level, and these disciplines, together with English, constituted the majority of Ph.D. completions. Another notable difference between the two degree levels was in the percentage of degrees awarded in philosophy. In 2010, such degrees were only 4% of the master’s degrees awarded but constituted 9% of all doctorates.

The smallest share of degrees at the master’s level, less than 0.1%, was awarded in folklore. At the doctoral level, there were no folklore degrees awarded. Among those disciplines in which doctoral degrees were earned, archeology, at 0.2% of all humanities Ph.D. completions, granted the fewest. As was the case at the bachelor’s level (see Indicator II-2, Disciplinary Distribution of Undergraduate Degrees), even though scholarship concerning race and gender has grown considerably over the last several decades,1 only a small share of all advanced humanities degrees, approximately 2%, was awarded in ethnic/gender/cultural studies.


1 Barbara J. Risman, “Gender as Social Structure: Theory Wrestling with Activism,” Gender and Society, vol. 18, no. 4 (August 2004): 429–450; and Patricia H. Collins and John Solomos, “Introduction: Situating Race and Ethnic Studies,” in Handbook of Race and Ethnic Studies, ed. Patricia H. Collins and John Solomos (London: Sage, 2010), 1–16.

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 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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