A substantial number of postsecondary students encounter the humanities at the community-college level—as students pursuing terminal certificates and degrees or as students taking courses to fill requirements for four-year programs. In 2014 the number of community-college students earning a degree in a humanities discipline or a degree that requires a substantial amount of training in the humanities—a degree in liberal or general studies, for example—was more than twice as large as the number of students earning degrees in the humanities at the baccalaureate level. (The course requirements for an associate’s degree in liberal studies cover an array of subject areas. Nevertheless, a review by Humanities Indicators staff suggests that community colleges typically assign more than a third of the necessary credit hours for liberal and general studies degrees to humanities subjects, with history courses often counting toward both humanities and social science requirements.)
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 http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/). 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), 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.
For example, 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. CIP-coded data are always the basis of humanities degree counts for indicators that report only degree data after 1986. 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 Indicators 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 Indicator 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).
With the introduction of the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) in 1987, the U.S. Department of Education enabled more complete tabulations of degrees conferred in a range of fields. 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.
Unlike the humanities degrees conferred at the baccalaureate level, almost all of the degrees counted here were classified by the conferring institution as being in “liberal arts” and “liberal studies” rather than specific humanities disciplines. For instance, of the 338,688 degrees tabulated as humanities for 2013, only 7,165 were conferred in a specific discipline (such as languages or history). Since associate’s degrees are conferred with half the number of credits required for a typical bachelor’s degree program, students are less likely to specialize in a specific subject area.
For the specific degree programs assigned to each academic field and the precise number of degrees awarded in each year, see the supporting table for this indicator.
For comparable information on bachelor’s degrees, see “Undergraduate Degrees in the Humanities.”
For degree completion trends at the graduate level, see “Advanced Degrees in the Humanities.”
Degree completion data for specific humanities disciplines are accessible via the right-hand sidebar on the higher education introduction page.
The Humanities Indicators and Departmental Survey have been made possible in part
by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the
Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this
website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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