Humanities Indicators
Facebook Twitter YouTube
Higher Education  >  Undergraduate Education
 
Bachelor's Degrees in the Humanities

Since the Second World War, the trend in humanities bachelor's degree completions has experienced a number of fluctuations—rising sharply after the war, falling through the 1970s, and then generally rising since the mid-1980s—both in absolute numbers and (until recently) as a share of all bachelor’s degrees earned by students in U.S. institutions of higher learning.

Findings and Trends

  • From the mid-1950s to 1971, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the “core” humanities disciplines of English language and literature, history, languages and literatures other than English (including linguistics and classics), and philosophy rose steadily to a peak of just over 135,000 degrees conferred (Indicator II-1a).[1] After 1971, the annual number of humanities degrees conferred fell 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 mid-1980s, degree completions began to increase, and in the early years of the 1990s the number of bachelor’s degrees crested again, rising back above 100,000. The number of degrees conferred on humanities majors increased throughout the 2000s before declining in 2010 and 2011.
  • 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 2011 comes to 185,148—higher than the 1971 zenith for the core humanities.
  • As a percentage of all bachelor’s degrees (Indicator II-1aa), those in the core humanities disciplines remained in the 10–11% range from 1948 to 1960, when the humanities’ share began to increase steadily, cresting at 17.2% in 1967.
  • 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 high. When core degrees are counted, the humanities’ share of all bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2011 (6.9%), was less than half the share for each year from 1962 to 1972. When CIP categories are used for tabulation purposes, humanities degrees represented 11.1% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2011.
  • The share of all degrees that were earned in the humanities—using either the “core” degree or CIP-based counts—declined approximately 7% from 2009 to 2011.
  • In 2010 the share of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the humanities (11.5%) was approximately 19 percentage points smaller than that for the sciences (natural and social combined) (Indicator II-1b). The humanities also awarded a substantially smaller proportion of bachelor’s degrees than the business and management field, which produced 21.5% of all bachelor’s degrees.
II-1a: Bachelor’s Degree Completions in the Humanities, 1948–2011*

* 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 classics), and philosophy. Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for 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 integrated science and engineering resources data system, WebCASPAR.

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/indII-1a.xls../cmsData/ppt/indII-1a.ppt../cmsData/pdf/indII-1a.pdf
II-1aa: Bachelor’s Degree Completions in the Humanities as a Percentage of All Bachelor’s Degree Completions, 1948–2011*

* 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 classics), and philosophy. Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for 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 integrated science and engineering resources data system, WebCASPAR.

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/indII-1aa.xls../cmsData/ppt/indII-1aa.ppt../cmsData/pdf/indII-1aa.pdf
II-1b: Shares of All Bachelor’s Degrees Awarded in Selected Academic Fields, 1987–2010*

* 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 integrated science and engineering resources data system, WebCASPAR.

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/indII-1b.xls../cmsData/ppt/indII-1b.ppt../cmsData/pdf/indII-1b.pdf

Endnotes

[1] The Humanities Indicators takes these disciplines as its focus 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.