Humanities Indicators
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Higher Education  >  Graduate Education
 
Humanities’ Share of All Advanced Degrees Conferred
(Updated March 2016)

While the number of advanced humanities degrees substantially recovered from the declines of the 1970s and early 1980s, the field’s share of all degrees completed at the master’s and doctoral levels fell to historic lows in recent years.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2014, the share of all master’s and professional-practice degrees awarded to students in the “core” humanities disciplines—English language and literature, history, languages and literatures other than English (including linguistics and classics), and philosophy—fell slightly below 2.1%, the lowest level recorded in the almost seven decades for which reliable data are available (Indicator 10aa).[1] At the doctoral level, the percentage of degrees awarded in the humanities fell to its lowest level in 2007 (5.6%), rose to 6.5% in 2012, but then fell back below 6.0% in 2014 (Indicator 10bb).
  • Viewed historically, graduate humanities programs experienced a substantial loss in their share of degree completions over the 1970s and 1980s, as the number of all advanced degrees awarded in the core humanities disciplines fell relative to the number completed in other fields. While the absolute numbers of advanced degrees conferred in the humanities rose from their mid-1980s low, the number of advanced degrees awarded in other fields increased more quickly. The humanities’ share of all master’s and doctoral degrees thus remained well below the record levels observed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
  • From the early 1990s (the height of the humanities’ recovery from the 1980s slump) to 2014 the core humanities’ share of all master’s and professional-practice degrees fell by over a third. At the doctoral level, however, the share of core humanities degrees increased fairly steadily in the 1990s and then shrank through 2007. Despite upticks in several subsequent years, as of 2014 the share remained considerably lower than the 10–14% plateau that lasted from 1948 until the early 1970s and was less than half of its 1973 high.
  • When degrees are classified using the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) to capture the full range of humanities disciplines,[2] humanities master’s degrees awarded each year since the late 1980s have constituted less than 5% of all degrees awarded at the master’s and professional-practice degree levels—falling to a historic low of 3.1% in 2014. Only the fine and performing arts reported a smaller share in that year (Indicator II-10c).
  • At the doctoral level, the percentage of degrees awarded annually in the humanities from the late 1980s to 2014 has been consistently higher than the share conferred at the master’s level—in most years, more than double the share (when CIP is used to tally degrees). The humanities share ranged from 7% to 11% of all degrees. In contrast, science and engineering degrees represented 55–65% of all doctorates during the same period (Indicator II-10d).
II-10aa: Master’s Degrees in the Humanities as a Percentage of All Master’s and Professional Degree Completions, 1948–2014

* English language and literature, history, languages and literatures other than English (including linguistics and classics), and philosophy. “CIP” refers to the Classification of Instructional Programs. Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for an explanation of the differences between the two sets of degree counts.

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-10bb: Doctoral Degrees in the Humanities as a Percentage of All Doctoral Degree Completions, 1948–2014

* English language and literature, history, languages and literatures other than English (including linguistics and classics), and philosophy. “CIP” refers to the Classification of Instructional Programs. Please see the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for an explanation of the differences between the two sets of degree counts.

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-10c: Shares of All Master’s and Professional Degrees Awarded in Selected Academic Fields, 1987–2014
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.
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II-10d: Shares of All Doctoral Degrees Awarded in Selected Academic Fields, 1987–2014

* The appearance of a dramatic shrinkage in 2010 in the share of all doctorates that went to students of the natural sciences is attributable to a recent change made by the National Center for Education Statistics in the way it asks institutions to classify doctorates. Please see the “About the Data” section of this indicator for details. (See also the Note on the Definition of Advanced Degrees for a description of this shift and the steps the Humanities Indicators has taken to help ensure comparability of the advanced degree counts it provides for different years.)

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.

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Endnotes

[1] The Humanities Indicators takes the “core” 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.
[2] The CIP permits the inclusion of degrees in area and gender studies, nonvocational religious studies, and some art studies. See Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares for details.