Humanities Indicators
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Higher Education  >  Undergraduate Education
 
Humanities Bachelor's Degrees as a Second Major
(Updated May 2017)

In 2001, the National Center for Education Statistics began to gather information on “second majors,” shedding more light on the extent to which Americans engage with the humanities as undergraduates. A “second major” degree in a humanities discipline is one earned at the same time as another degree, which could be in a nonhumanities field or a different humanities discipline. Data on second majors are reported by the institution (rather than the student), and thus no meaning can be inferred from these degrees being designated as second (rather than first) majors.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2015, 24,035 bachelor’s students at U.S. colleges and universities completed a “second major” in the humanities (i.e., a degree in a humanities discipline earned at the same time as a degree in a nonhumanities field or a different humanities discipline; Indicator II-1c). The number of students graduating with a “second major” in the humanities has been shrinking slowly since 2012, when the number peaked at 25,689.
  • The recent decline was less acute than the drop in humanities degrees awarded as first majors. Growth in the number of students pursing a “second major” in the humanities did, however, lag growth in the total number of students completing a “second major.” As a result, the share of such majors awarded in the humanities fell to the lowest level on record in 2015 (25%). Nevertheless, humanities remained the most popular field in which to take a “second major.”
  • “Second majors” in the humanities were completed by approximately 1.4% of bachelor’s degree recipients in 2015, up from 1.1% in 2001. In 2015, the share of new bachelor’s degree recipients with “second majors” in any field was 5.4% (not pictured).
  • Since 2001, when data on “second majors” were first collected, students have been much more likely to earn second majors in the humanities, social sciences, or business than in other fields (Indicator II-1c1).
  • While the number of “second majors” completed in the humanities fell from 2012 to 2015, the number awarded in the science, technical, engineering, and medical (STEM) fields (while considerably smaller) generally increased or plateaued. From 2012 to 2015, the number of “second majors” earned in the humanities fell 6% as the number of such majors completed in engineering increased 51% and the number in health and medical sciences rose 24%.
  • Since 2001, languages and literatures other than English have been the most popular subjects for students earning “second majors” in humanities, and 7,094 students earned degrees in the discipline in 2015 (Indicator II-1c2). The next most popular disciplines for “second majors” were English and history, which conferred 3,560 and 2,957 degrees.
  • The communication discipline was the substantial exception to a pattern of recent declines in “second majors” among the larger humanities disciplines. The 2,101 students earning a “second major” in communication (excluding professional degrees) in 2015 was a 14% increase over from the 2012 level. Gains were also made in certain of the smaller fields, including archeology, study of the arts, comparative literature, linguistics, and selected interdisciplinary studies.
II-1c: Humanities Bachelor’s Degrees Earned as “Second Majors,” 2001–2015
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 data system, WebCASPAR. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
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II-1c1: Number of Bachelor’s Degrees Earned as “Second Majors,” by Field, 2001–2015
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 data system, WebCASPAR. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
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II-1c2: Number of Bachelor’s Degrees Earned as “Second Majors” in Selected Humanities Disciplines, 2001–2015
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 data system, WebCASPAR. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
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