Humanities Indicators
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Higher Education  >  Undergraduate Education
 
Bachelor's Degrees in the Humanities
(Updated January 2015)

Since the Second World War, the trend in humanities bachelor’s degree completions has experienced a number of fluctuations, rising sharply after the war, plummeting through the 1970s and mid-1980s, and then recovering. More recent years have seen a plateau and then a decline.

Findings and Trends

  • The number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in the “core” humanities disciplines (English language and literature, history, languages and literatures other than English, linguistics, classical studies, and philosophy) fell 2.4% from 2012 to 2013, marking the third decline in four years (Indicator II-1a).[1]
  • From the mid-1950s to 1971, the number of bachelor’s degrees rose steadily to a peak of just over 135,000 degrees conferred. But the annual number of humanities degrees conferred fell sharply throughout the 1970s and into the mid-1980s, so that by 1984 the humanities were awarding less than half the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in the field in the early 1970s. In the late 1980s, degree completions began to increase again, rising as high as 118,205 in 2009.
  • The Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) allows for the identification of a fuller range of humanities degrees (including degrees in area and gender studies, nonvocational religious studies, and some art studies). When CIP is used to tally degrees, the count of humanities bachelor’s completions for 2013 comes to 183,229—higher than the 1971 zenith for the core humanities.
  • As a percentage of all bachelor’s degrees, the core humanities disciplines fell to their lowest recorded level, 6.5%, in 2013 (reliable data extend back to 1948; Indicator II-1aa). As recently as 1996, the share for the core humanities was over 8.0%, with the highest postwar level being 17.2% in 1967. When CIP categories are used for tabulation, allowing for the inclusion of degrees in a greater variety of humanities disciplines, degrees in the field represented 10.4% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2013, the smallest share since 1988.
  • The humanities experienced a substantial decline in their share of all bachelor’s degrees over the course of the 1970s and early 1980s. Although the number of humanities degree completions increased thereafter, so did the total number of bachelor’s degrees awarded. Consequently, the humanities’ share of all bachelor’s degrees remains well below the historic high recorded in 1967.
  • In 2013 the share of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the humanities (10.4%) was less than a third of the 33.8% share for the sciences (natural, behavioral, and social combined; using CIP categories for tabulation; Indicator II-1b). The humanities also awarded a substantially smaller proportion of bachelor’s degrees than the business and management field, which awarded 19.3% of all such degrees.
  • The natural and social sciences are the only fields whose share of all bachelor’s degrees awarded was higher in 2013 than a decade earlier.
II-1a: Bachelor’s Degree Completions in the Humanities, 1948–2013*

* Degree completion counts could not be obtained for 1979 and 1983. The degree counts depicted do not include “second majors.” For data on such degrees, see “Humanities Bachelor’s Degrees as a Second Major.”** “CIP” refers to the Classification of Instructional Programs.† English language and literature, history, languages and literatures other than English (including linguistics and classical studies), and philosophy. Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Sharesfor an explanation of the difference between the two trend lines.

Source: Office of Education/U.S. Department of Education, “Survey of Earned Degrees,” “Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS),” and “Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS).” HEGIS and IPEDS data were accessed and analyzed via the National Science Foundation's online data system,WebCASPAR.

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II-1aa: Bachelor’s Degree Completions in the Humanities as a Percentage of All Bachelor’s Degree Completions, 1948–2013*

* Degree completion counts could not be obtained for 1979 and 1983. The degree counts depicted do not include “second majors.” For data on such degrees, see“Humanities Bachelor’s Degrees as a Second Major.”** “CIP” refers to the Classification of Instructional Programs.† English language and literature, history, languages and literatures other than English (including linguistics and classical studies), and philosophy. Please see theNote on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Sharesfor an explanation of the difference between the two trend lines.

Source: Office of Education/U.S. Department of Education, “Survey of Earned Degrees,” “Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS),” and “Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS).” HEGIS and IPEDS data were accessed and analyzed via the National Science Foundation's online data system,WebCASPAR.

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II-1b: Shares of All Bachelor’s Degrees Awarded in Selected Academic Fields, 1987–2013*

* Excludes “second majors.” For data on such degrees, see “Humanities Bachelor’s Degrees as a Second Major.”

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Data System; accessed via the National Science Foundation’s online system, WebCASPAR.

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Endnotes

[1] The Humanities Indicators takes these disciplines to be the “core” because together they constitute the majority of humanities degrees and also because they are the only disciplines for which comparable data are available that allow for the construction of a long-term trend.