Humanities Indicators
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Associate’s Degrees in the Humanities
(Updated March 2016)

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.[1] 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.)

Findings and Trends

  • The number of associate’s degrees conferred in academic disciplines classified by the Humanities Indicators as being within the humanities rose from 2013 to 2014 (from 338,688 to 347,735; a large majority of the associate’s degrees counted as humanities were in “liberal arts” and “liberal studies”).[2] This continues a trend extending back to 1987. From that year to 2014, the number of degrees increased by an average of 4.3% per year, though growth in the most recent two years has been slower than average (Indicator II-a1).
  • Professional fields conferred the largest number of associate’s degrees from 1987 to 2014, but the number has been falling in the most recent years (from a high of 442,000 in 2012 to 404,040 in 2014). Degree conferrals in the professional fields were principally clustered in business and nursing.
  • As a share of all associate’s degrees (Indicator II-a2), degrees with a substantial amount of training in the humanities rose from 25.8% in 1987 to 40.7% in 2014. In comparison, the share of degrees classified here as awarded in professional fields fell from 57.5% to 47.3% from 1987 to 2014.
II-a1: Associate’s Degree Completions, by Field, 1987–2014
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Integrated Postsecondary Data System; data accessed and analyzed via the National Science Foundation’s online data system, WebCASPAR.
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II-a2: Associate’s Degree Completions in Selected Fields as a Percentage of All Associate’s Degree Completions, 1987–2014
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Integrated Postsecondary Data System; data accessed and analyzed via the National Science Foundation's online data system, WebCASPAR.
About this DataRelated Indicators
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Endnotes

[1] The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that “[in] the 2010–11 academic year, 45 percent of all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution had previously enrolled at a two-year institution” (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Snapshot Report: Mobility [Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse, 2012]).
[2] The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that “[in] the 2010–11 academic year, 45 percent of all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution had previously enrolled at a two-year institution” (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Snapshot Report: Mobility [Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse, 2012]).