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Community Colleges Buck the Trend of Shrinking Humanities

Report: Humanities Indicators

Organization: American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Summary: The academy has previously reported on the value of humanities programs, funding for them, and how they are doing over all. This year, for the first time, the academy is posting data on trends in humanities degrees at community colleges, and the results there brighten what is otherwise a gloomy picture. The report highlights historical and year-to-year data for various sectors. Among the highlights are:

  • The number of associate degrees in the humanities increased from 1987 to 2013 by an average of 4.3 percent each year, growing from 113,587 to 338,688. Most were in “liberal arts” and “liberal studies” fields that drew from a variety of disciplines but required a disproportionate number of credits in humanities subjects.
  • As a share of all associate degrees, those with a significant
    humanities component rose from 25.8 percent in 1987 to 38.9 percent in 2013.
  • The opposite trend has been occurring in recent years at four-year
    colleges. At the bachelor’s-degree level, the number of degrees awarded in the core humanities disciplines, including classical studies, English language and literature, foreign languages, history, linguistics, and philosophy, dropped 2.4 percent from 2012 to 2013. It was the third decline in four years after nearly a decade of stability.
  • As a share of all bachelor’s degrees, the core humanities disciplines fell to their lowest recorded level, 6.5 percent, in 2013.
  • Even among second majors, where humanities’ share is more than
    double the share among first majors, it has been losing ground
    relative to other fields.
  • While the number of graduate degrees awarded in the humanities has risen, its share of all degrees completed at the master’s and
    doctoral level fell, in 2013, to at or near historical lows.

Bottom Line: The share of degrees awarded in the humanities continues to slide in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs nationwide, but at community colleges the numbers are increasing.

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