While the humanities pervade many aspects of American life, this field is most directly and extensively pursued in the nation’s colleges and universities. There, building on the preparatory education of secondary school, students acquire knowledge of humanities disciplines, and even those who major in other fields take humanities courses. At the same time that colleges and universities provide students with training in the humanities that they will draw on throughout their personal, professional, and civic lives, these institutions also foster the majority of the intellectual work that shapes the future of humanistic scholarship and teaching. The number of students who take degrees in the humanities provides one of the most fundamental indicators of the state of the field. Large changes in the numbers of those who choose undergraduate humanities majors can affect the ecology of higher education, while an increase or decrease in the number of those completing advanced degrees in the humanities may signal tight job markets for new Ph.D.’s or warn of future shortages of teachers.
Fortunately, data on degrees awarded by U.S. institutions of higher learning are abundant and of good quality. The U.S. Department of Education and its predecessor, the Office of Education, have collected data on postsecondary degree completions for many decades. To be sure, data on some aspects of degree completion are less readily accessible (e.g., information about the race/ethnicity of degree recipients in some disciplines is available only for the last 15 years or so). But the available data on degrees still provide some of the most current and reliable information on the condition of the humanities in the United States over the last half-century.
The indicators under "Higher Education" offer answers to several key questions regarding humanities degree awards in the contemporary United States, including:
- How has the demand for humanities degrees changed over time?
- What share of all academic degrees is awarded in the humanities?
- How many humanities degrees are awarded in specific disciplines (e.g., English language and literature)?
Several of the indicators in this part move beyond degree data to look at other aspects of higher education in the humanities, including collegiate course-taking (to ascertain how many students outside of humanities majors are engaged in humanistic study), levels of college achievement in the humanities, and the extent to which students participate in international education. This part also examines various aspects of doctorate education in the humanities, such as the amount of debt with which students emerge from Ph.D. programs and the percentage of students entering these programs who ultimately obtain their degrees (and how this rate compares with those in other academic fields).
Degree Information for Specific Disciplines
International Education and the Humanities