Humanities Indicators
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Higher Education  >  Graduate Education
 
Debt and Doctoral Study in the Humanities
(Updated November 2016)

Funding for doctoral study comes from a variety of sources, but one of the long-term costs of a Ph.D. is measured in education-related debt. The evidence shows that new humanities Ph.D.’s are more likely to accumulate debt than graduates in other disciplines. Humanities Ph.D.’s also accumulate slightly more debt, on average, than their counterparts in most STEM fields.

Findings and Trends

  • The average amount of graduate education debt accumulated by doctoral degree recipients in the humanities reached a record high of $22,405 in 2014—$6,814 higher than the average for new Ph.D.’s in all fields (amounts given in 2014 constant dollars; Indicator II-16c). Ph.D.’s in education finished their degrees with the highest level of average debt in 2014 ($28,412).
  • The average debt accumulated during graduate studies by humanities Ph.D.’s increased 56% from 2002 to 2014. Only one other major academic field, education, saw a greater increase over that period (130%). In engineering, the average debt level was lower in 2014 than 12 years earlier.
  • The average indebtedness figure for the humanities masks a “feast or famine” situation with respect to the ability of doctorate recipients to secure funding for their studies, which is found in all fields but is particularly pronounced in the humanities. Almost half of humanities doctorate recipients in 2014 completed the Ph.D. with no graduate education debt (Indicator II-16d). However, 29% of humanities doctorate recipients incurred more than $30,000 in debt. Seven percent of new humanities Ph.D.’s in 2014 accumulated debt of more than $90,000 in their pursuit of the degree.
  • The share of humanities Ph.D.’s completing the degree without debt was near the record low in 2014 (48%) and was 15 percentage points smaller than the share for all fields combined (Indicator II-16e). In 2004, 57% of humanities Ph.D.’s left their studies with no debt. Following years of declines, the share shrank to less than 50% for the first time in 2012.
  • Throughout the 2004–2014 period humanities Ph.D.’s were somewhat more likely to emerge from their graduate studies without debt than were their counterparts in the behavioral and social sciences, but they were substantially less likely to be debt-fee than natural science and engineering Ph.D.’s.
II-16c: Average Level of Graduate Education Debt Accumulated by Doctorate Recipients, Selected Academic Fields, 2002–2014 (Adjusted for Inflation)
Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org). For years 2002–2006, debt estimates obtained from the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago: Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report (Chicago: NORC, 2003–2007). For years 2007–2008: National Science Foundation, Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: Summary Report 2007–08, NSF10-309 (Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2009), tables 23 and S-23. For 2009: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2009, NSF 11-306 (Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2010), table 35. For 2010: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2010, NSF 12-305 (Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2011), table 38. For 2011: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011, NSF 13-301 (Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2012), table 38. For 2012: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2012, NSF 14-305 (Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2013), table 38. For 2013: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2013, NSF 15-304 (Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2014), table 38. For 2014: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2014, NSF 16-300 (Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2015), table 38. The adjustment for inflation was made using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).
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II-16d: Education-Related (Graduate) Debt of Humanities Doctorate Recipients, Selected Academic Fields, 2014
Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org). Debt estimates obtained from National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2014, NSF 16-300 (Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2015), table 38.
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II-16e: Share of Doctorate Recipients without Graduate Education Debt, Selected Academic Fields, 2004–2014
Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org). Debt estimates obtained from National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2014, NSF 16-300 (Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2015), table 38).
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