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Indicator II-21 Philosophy Degree Completions
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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See the
Note on Data Used to Calculate Discipline-Specific Degree Counts and Shares, the Note on the Calculation of Shares of Degrees Awarded to Members of Traditionally Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Groups, the Note on the Racial/Ethnic Composition of the U.S. Young Adult Population, the Note on the Definition of Advanced Degrees, and the NSF and CIP Discipline Code Catalog (for an inventory of the specific degree programs included by the Humanities Indicators under the heading of “Philosophy”).

Unlike the other disciplines profiled in this section, for which basic degree completion data are available going back to 1966, counts of philosophy degrees are available only from 1987 onward. (Until the late 1980s, philosophy degrees were combined by the National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], the collector of these data, with those conferred in religious studies.)1 What data do exist for philosophy paint a picture of a discipline of modest size but one that has experienced growth in its number of degree completions and diversification in the type of students earning those degrees.

In 2009, 7,842, or 0.5% of the approximately 1.6 million bachelor’s degrees conferred by U.S. institutions of higher learning, were completed in philosophy (Figure II-21a).2 The preceding two decades saw steady increases in the number of completions, with the exception of a plateau during the latter half of the 1990s. The 2009 count was 122% greater than that for 1987. This growth more than kept pace with the steady increase in the total number of undergraduate degrees conferred, resulting in growth of the share of all bachelor’s degrees that were awarded in philosophy.

Figure II-21a, Full Size
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Master’s degree completions in philosophy approximately doubled over the 1987–2009 time period (Figure II-21b). Growth occurred in much the same way that it did at the bachelor’s level, with two surges separated by a period of stagnation, one that in this case started in the early 1990s and lasted through the end of that decade. Philosophy degrees represented 0.14%–0.20% of all master’s and first professional degrees awarded in each year of the two-decade span examined here.

Figure II-21b, Full Size
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At the doctoral level, the number of degrees completed in philosophy grew incrementally but steadily from 1987 to the turn of the century, as did the discipline’s share of all doctorates conferred (Figure II-21c). The mid-2000s were a period of stasis for doctorate completions, but 2009 saw a relatively substantial rise in the number of students earning doctorates in philosophy. This jump produced an uptick in the discipline’s share of all degree completions, which had been shrinking since 2003.

Figure II-21c, Full Size
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In 2009, traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities3 received approximately 12% of all bachelor’s degrees in philosophy (Figure II-21d). This percentage represents an increase of three percentage points from 1995, the first year for which data of this kind are available. The group contributing most to this rise was Hispanics, with completions by students of this ethnicity rising from approximately 4.5% to almost 7%. At the master’s level, traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities earned approximately 8% of philosophy degrees awarded in 2009, up from 6.5% in 1995 (Figure II-21e). Among traditionally underrepresented groups, Hispanics, who completed almost 5% of philosophy master’s in 2009, were the most likely to earn this type of degree. The data also reveal a surge from 2004 to 2009 in the percentage of philosophy master’s degrees awarded to students of unknown ethnicity or who identified themselves as being of a race or ethnicity that is not included among the reporting categories employed by the NCES. Whether this increase is indicative of a rise in completions among members of smaller minority groups, an increasing unwillingness of students to report ethnicity data to their institutions, a growing embrace by students of racial/ethnic identifications (e.g., biracial) that could not be accommodated by NCES’s classification scheme, or some combination of these phenomena is not clear.

Figure II-21d, Full Size
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Figure II-21e, Full Size
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By 2006, completions of philosophy doctorates by traditionally underrepresented minorities had reached a high point of almost 8%, a level nearly three times greater than that observed in 1995 (Figure II-21f). After the mid-2000s, however, these students’ share of degrees declined, and they earned fewer than 5% of philosophy doctorates in 2009. Completing a greater share of philosophy doctorates were “temporary residents,” students from other nations who come to study in the United States. In 2009, approximately a fifth of all philosophy doctorates from U.S. institutions were awarded to such students.

Figure II-21f, Full Size
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In 2009, approximately 30% of philosophy degree completers at all levels were women (Figure II-21g). This represents a considerable increase in the share of doctorate degrees earned by women, which was 19% in 1987. In contrast, the gender distribution of bachelor’s degrees remained more or less constant over the time period. Variability at the master’s level was greater, with a striking increase over the late 1980s followed by a sharp decline in 1992. The mid-2000s were marked by another decline, although in 2009 the percentage of philosophy master’s degrees earned by women increased somewhat.

Figure II-21g, Full Size
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1None of the graphs presented here include a data point for the academic year 1999, because NCES did not release data for that year.

2The degree counts presented as part of the Humanities Indicators do not include so-called double majors (second degrees). When degrees are earned concurrently in this way, NCES collects information about both, but only one of the degrees is included in the agency’s completion counts. Second degrees are not common (in the 2006–2007 academic year, they accounted for 5.2% of all degree completions).

Data on the number of students completing minors are not gathered as part of the data collection program from which these degree completion counts are drawn.

3 For an explanation of how these percentages were calculated, see the Note on the Calculation of Shares of Degrees Awarded to Members of Traditionally Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Groups. See also the Note on the Racial/Ethnic Composition of the U.S. Young Adult Population.

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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 Discipline-Specific Degree Counts and Shares

The data that form the basis of these indicators are drawn from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’s (NCES) Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS) and its successor, the Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS), 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 this major data collection program, see The HEGIS/IPEDS degree-completion data going back to 1966 have been made easily accessible to decision-makers, researchers, and the general public by the National Science Foundation (NSF) via its online data analysis tool WebCASPAR. The NSF has traditionally used the NCES data to tabulate science and engineering degree awards as part of its Science and Engineering Indicators Program, which since 1973 has issued a biennial report designed to provide public and private policymakers with a broad base of quantitative information about the U.S. science, engineering, and technology enterprise.

The NSF has developed a set of standardized disciplinary categories that can be used across the various data sources it relies upon to construct its indicators. Because the NSF focuses on trends in science and engineering education, its disciplinary classification is most detailed in these areas. The utility of the NSF system for the purposes of the Humanities Indicators (HI) is limited. For example, the NSF scheme does not distinguish between the academic study of the arts, considered by the HI to be part of the humanities, and art performance. This makes it impossible for the HI to include in its tally those degrees conferred in the areas of musicology, art history, film studies, and drama history/criticism. Moreover, while the HI considers such disciplines as archeology, women’s studies, gay and lesbian studies, and Holocaust studies to be part of the humanities field, NSF categorizes them as social sciences. Additionally, NSF places interdisciplinary degrees in areas such as general humanities and liberal studies in a broad “Other” category that includes degrees for many disciplines that are clearly not within the purview of the humanities as conceptualized by the HI. Consequently, such interdisciplinary degrees, along with those mentioned above, cannot be captured in humanities degree counts from 1966 to 1986.

For 1987 and later years (1995 and later for data on the race/ethnicity of degree recipients), however, NSF also categorizes earned degrees according to the more detailed Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP), which permits a more precise count of humanities degrees; that is, a count that includes degrees in all those programs that are part of academic disciplines included within the scope of the humanities for the purposes of the HI. (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.) The CIP was first developed by NCES in 1980 as a way to account 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.

For the purposes of the Humanities Indicators the CIP has several advantages over the NSF classification system. For example, because the NSF system groups degrees in the nonsectarian study of religion with those awarded in programs designed to prepare students for religious vocations and since the latter type of degree is much more common, the HI cannot include what the NSF considers to be degrees in religion in the humanities degree counts for years prior to 1987. With CIP-coded data, however, 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 all the excluded disciplines mentioned above, from art history to Holocaust studies, in its counts of humanities degrees from 1987 onward. For an inventory of the NSF and CIP disciplinary categories included by the HI under the broad field headings (“humanities,” “natural sciences,” etc.) used throughout Part II of the HI, see the NSF and CIP Discipline Code Catalog. This catalog also indicates which degree programs are included by the HI 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 constructing indicators that use IPEDS data to track long-term historical trends in the academic humanities, the HI has employed completion data that were classified using both the NSF and CIP systems. In these cases, either a note accompanying the chart or a break in the trend line indicates where estimates based on the NSF classification system leave off and those based on CIP begin. For those indicators reporting degree data gathered in 1987 or more recently (1995 or more recently for the charts and tables describing the proportions of all degrees received by members of racial/ethnic minority groups), CIP-coded data are used.

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 includes a data point for the academic year 1999, because the NCES did not release data for that year.

The degree counts presented as part of the HI do not include so-called double major degrees. When degrees are earned concurrently in this way, only the first degree is counted. Although second degrees are not common (in the 2006–2007 academic year, they accounted for 5.2% of all degree completions), anecdotal evidence suggests that a preponderance of such degrees are in the humanities. Second-degree data first became available via WebCASPAR in November 2010. If resources permit, an analysis of these data will be conducted in 2011.

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).

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Note on the Calculation of Shares of Degrees Awarded to Members of Traditionally Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Groups

For each academic discipline or field, the share of all degrees earned by members of traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic groups was calculated by dividing the number of degrees completed by students identified by their institutions as African American (non-Hispanic), Hispanic, or American Indian/Alaska Native by the total number of degree completions in that field. Not included in the count of traditionally underrepresented minorities were (1) students of Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry, (2) students designated by their educational institutions as being of “Other/Unknown Ethnicity,”* and (3) international students—that is, temporary residents who were in the United States for the express purpose of attending school and who were likely to return to their home countries upon graduation (significant numbers of these individuals may be of African or Hispanic background, but the National Center for Education Statistics , the compiler of these data, does not request that institutions of higher learning collect racial/ethnicity data for such students).

* According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the compiler of these data, a student is assigned to this category only if he or she does not select a racial/ethnic designation and his or her educational institution finds it impossible to place the student in one of the NCES-defined racial/ethnic categories during established enrollment procedures or in any post-enrollment identification or verification process. Over time the percentage of students categorized as “Other/Unknown” has grown, thereby reducing the ability of postsecondary institutions, policymakers, and the general public to reliably track the racial/ethnic diversity of degree recipients.

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Note on the Racial/Ethnic Composition of the U.S. Young Adult Population (18–30 Years Old)

Using information provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Humanities Indicators has calculated the following estimates of the share of the total national young adult population represented by each of the categories employed by the National Center for Education Statistics for the purpose of reporting the percentages of degrees awarded to students of different races/ethnicities* (estimates are for April 2010):

African American, Non-Hispanic
Asian or Pacific Islander
Native American or Alaska Native

Source: Data drawn from U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, “US-EST00INT-ALLDATA: Intercensal Estimates of the Resident Population by Single Year of Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin for the United States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2010” (data file,September 2011), downloadable under the heading “Intercensal Estimates of the Resident Population by Single Year of Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin for the United States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2010” at

* The racial/ethnic categorization scheme employed for the purposes of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is the basis of the Humanities Indicators items dealing with the distribution of degree completions among racial/ethnic groups, and the system used by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Division, which is the source of the information provided in this note, differ in important ways. Whereas IPEDS has traditionally used a “one-question” approach that requires institutions to use mutually exclusive reporting categories, one of which is “Hispanic,” the Census Bureau employs a “two-question” format that inquires separately about race and Hispanic origin. In further contrast to IPEDS, the Census Bureau permits respondents to select more than one race to describe themselves.

In view of these differences the Humanities Indicators could not develop size estimates for racial/ethnic groups that provide strictly comparable points of reference for the percentages supplied as part of Indicators II-4 and II-12. The following table indicates which Census-defined group(s) were used as the basis for the estimates provided in this note.

“African American, Non-Hispanic”
“Asian or Pacific Islander”

“Native American or Alaska Native”


“Not Hispanic, Black alone”
“Not Hispanic, Asian alone” and
“Not Hispanic, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone”
“Hispanic, White alone”
“Not Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native alone”

Beginning with the data collection for academic year 2011–2012, IPEDS required that institutions report information on degree completers’ race and ethnicity in a way similar to the Census Bureau and most other data collections sponsored by federal government agencies. See for details.

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