Humanities Indicators
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Higher Education  >  Undergraduate Education
 
Disciplinary Distribution of Bachelor's Degrees in the Humanities
(Updated May 2017)

The mix of humanities disciplines attracting student majors has changed over the years, as new disciplines emerged and (in recent years) the number of degrees conferred in some of the larger disciplines started to fall.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2015, communication degrees (excluding those of a professional character) constituted the largest share of humanities bachelor’s degrees, accounting for almost a quarter of the humanities degrees at this level (Indicator II-2a). English language and literature conferred the next largest portion of humanities bachelor’s degrees, 21%.
  • Since 1987, the shares of degrees conferred in the two disciplines that produce the largest number of degrees in the humanities, communication (excluding professional degrees) and English language and literature (ELL), have diverged sharply (Indicator II-2b). The share of communication degrees increased 44% from 1987 to 2015 (growing from 17% to 24% of all humanities bachelor’s degrees), while ELL’s share shrunk by almost a third (from just under 30% of the degrees conferred in the field in 1987 to 21% in 2015). Despite the discipline’s sharp decline in share, the actual number of ELL bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2015 was well above the 1987 level.
  • Area studies, comparative literature, history, languages and literatures other than English, and religion also experienced declines in share ranging from 8% to 31% over the 1987–2015 period. General humanities’ share of humanities degrees increased somewhat, while the remaining disciplines, which grant far fewer degrees, saw small numerical increases in degrees that represented sizable percentage increases in share; for example, the share of humanities degrees in cultural, ethnic, and gender studies increased more than 313%—from 524 degrees (0.4% of all humanities degrees) to 3,812 (1.8% of all humanities degrees).
II-2a: Distribution of Humanities Bachelor’s Degree Completions among Disciplines, 2015

* Values for the disciplines included in this category are provided in Supporting Table II-2a.

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-2b: Percentage of Humanities Bachelor’s Degrees Awarded by Each Discipline, 1987–2015

* Values for the disciplines included in this category are provided in Supporting Table II-2b.

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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