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Indicator II-10 Advanced Degrees in the Humanities
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Updated (3/16/2010) with data from 2007.

See the
Note on the Data Used to Construct Degree-Related Indicators and the Note on the Definition of Master’s Degrees and First Professional Degrees.

As was the case at the bachelor’s degree level, the last four decades have seen dramatic growth, marked decline, and then recovery of the academic humanities with respect to the completion of advanced degrees (see Indicator II-1, Undergraduate Degrees in the Humanities). As Figures II-10a and II-10b illustrate, while the period from the late 1960s to the early 1970s was one of increasing numbers of master’s and doctoral degree completions in the humanities, this trend reversed as the 1970s progressed, so that by the mid-1980s the humanities were awarding approximately 50% as many advanced degrees. By the late 1980s, however, these degree completions were on the rise once again, and in the mid-1990s completion numbers at the master’s level had reached 69% of their 1971 high. Then, after a decline in completions throughout the late 1990s, master’s degree completions picked up again in 2002 and increased modestly in each of the subsequent four years. The count for 2007 was the first of the decade to reflect a decline from the previous year. The number of Ph.D. completions in 2007 was down somewhat from 2000, the height of the recovery from the 1980s slump in humanities doctorates, when the number reached 84% of its 1973 peak.

Figure II-10a, Full Size
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Figure II-10b, Full Size
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Graduate humanities programs, like their undergraduate counterparts, have experienced a substantial loss of share over the last several decades—that is, a reduction in the number of all advanced degrees awarded in the humanities relative to the number awarded in other fields. While the absolute numbers of advanced degrees conferred in the humanities rose well above the mid-1980s low, the even more substantial growth in the numbers of advanced degrees awarded in other fields served to keep the humanities’ share of all master’s and doctoral degrees well below the record levels observed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At the master’s level, the humanities share of all degrees has stood since 2000 at roughly a quarter of the 1967 peak level. While the decade between 1988 and 1998 saw steady increases in the humanities’ share of all doctoral degrees, the proportion then began to shrink again, so that by 2007 it was 44% of the 1973 high. (These calculations are based on degree award data classified according the National Science Foundation’s disciplinary categories; for an explanation of the foundation’s system, see the Note on the Data Used to Construct Degree-Related Indicators.)

Over the last two decades, humanities degrees have constituted a small percentage (less than 5%) of all degrees awarded at the master’s and first professional degree level (Figure II-10c; see the Note on the Definition of Master’s Degrees and First Professional Degrees). At the doctoral level, the percentage of degrees awarded in the humanities has been somewhat greater, ranging between 7% and 10% of all degrees over this time period (Figure II-10d). In contrast, science degrees represented between 43% and 49% of all doctorates.

Figure II-10c, Full Size
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Figure II-10d, Full Size
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Note on the Definition of Master’s Degrees and First Professional Degrees

The Humanities Indicators Project uses the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) definitions of master’s degrees and first professional degrees. According to the online version of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Glossary, master’s degrees are those “awards that require the successful completion of a program of study of at least the full-time equivalent of 1 academic year, but not more than 2 academic years of work beyond the bachelor’s degree.” First professional degrees are those “awards that require completion of a program that meets all the following criteria: (1) completion of the academic requirements to begin practice in the profession; (2) at least 2 years of college work prior to entering the program; and (3) a total of at least 6 academic years of college work to complete the degree program, including prior required college work plus the length of the professional program itself.” The following ten fields award first professional degrees:

Chiropractic (D.C. or D.C.M.)
Dentistry (D.D.S. or D.M.D.)
Law (LL.B., or J.D.)
Medicine (M.D.)
Optometry (O.D.)
Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)
Podiatry (D.P.M., D.P., or Pod.D.)
Theology (M.Div., M.H.L., B.D., or Ordination)
Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.)

Although some fields (e.g., library science, hospital administration, and social work) require specialized degrees for employment at the professional level, the NCES does not count degrees in these fields as first professional degrees; instead, they are included as master’s degrees.

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Note on the Data Used to Construct Degree-Related Indicators

The data that form the basis of these indicators are drawn from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS) and its successor, the Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS), through which institutions of higher learning report on the numbers and characteristics of students completing degree programs (as well as various other areas of information; for more on this major data collection program, see The HEGIS/IPEDS degree-completion data going back to 1966 have been made easily accessible to researchers and the general public by the National Science Foundation (NSF) via its online data analysis tool WebCASPAR. The NSF has traditionally used the NCES data to tabulate science and engineering degree awards as part of its Science and Engineering Indicators Program, which since 1973 has issued a biennial report designed to provide public and private policymakers a broad base of quantitative information about the U.S. science, engineering, and technology enterprise.

In the process, the NSF has developed a set of standardized disciplinary classifications that can be used across the various data sources it relies upon to construct its indicators. Because the NSF focuses on trends in science and engineering education, the disciplinary classifications are most detailed in these areas. By contrast, the NSF’s disciplinary categories for the humanities are neither as inclusive nor as specific, and this limits the usefulness of the NSF classification system for the purposes of the Humanities Indicators. Thus, for example, the NSF scheme does not distinguish between the academic study of the arts, considered by the Humanities Indicators to be part of the humanities, and art performance. This makes it impossible for the Humanities Indicators to include in its tally those degrees conferred in the areas of musicology, art history, film studies, and drama history/criticism. Moreover, while the NSF system does provide degree counts for disciplines such as archeology, women’s studies, gay and lesbian studies, and Holocaust studies, it treats these disciplines as social sciences, not humanities as they are considered to be here. Additionally, in the NSF system, interdisciplinary degrees in areas such as general humanities and liberal studies are placed in a broad “Other” category that includes degrees for many disciplines that are clearly not within the purview of the humanities as they are used by the Humanities Indicators Project. Consequently, such interdisciplinary degrees, along with those mentioned above, cannot be captured in humanities degree counts from 1966 to 1986.

For the year 1987 and later (1995 and later for data on the race/ethnicity of degree recipients), however, the NSF also categorizes earned degrees according to the more detailed Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP), which permits a more precise count of humanities degrees; that is, a count that includes degrees in all those programs that are part of academic disciplines included within the scope of the “humanities” for the purposes of the Humanities Indicators. (For an inventory of the disciplines and activities treated as part of the “humanities” by the Humanities Indicators, see the Statement on the Scope of the “Humanities” for Purposes of the Humanities Indicators.) The CIP was first developed by the NCES in 1980 as a way to account for the tremendous variety of degree programs offered by American institutions of higher learning and has been revised three times since its introduction, most recently in 2009 (this version is referred to as “CIP 2010”). The CIP has also been adopted by Statistics Canada as its standard disciplinary classification system. While the CIP greatly facilitates comparisons between the two countries, such comparisons are beyond the present scope of the Humanities Indicators Project.

For the purposes of the Humanities Indicators, though, the CIP has several advantages over the NSF system. For example, because the older system grouped degrees in the nonsectarian study of religion with those awarded in programs designed to prepare students for religious vocations and because the latter type of degree is much more common, the Humanities Indicators could not include what the NSF considers to be degrees in religion in the humanities degree counts for years prior to 1987. With CIP-coded data, however, academic disciplines such as comparative religion can be separated from vocational programs such as theology and thus can be included in the humanities degree tally. Additionally, when using CIP-coded data, the Humanities Indicators can include degrees in all the disciplines mentioned above, from art history to Holocaust studies, in its counts of humanities degrees from 1987 onward. For an inventory of the NSF and CIP disciplinary codes included by the Humanities Indicators under the broad field headings used throughout this document (“humanities,” “natural sciences,” etc.), see the NSF and CIP Discipline Code Catalog. For the humanities, this catalog lists the many degree programs that are counted within specific disciplines (e.g., English degrees include those classified under CIP as being in “English Language and Literature,” “American Literature,” and “Creative Writing,” among others).

In constructing indicators that use IPEDS data to track long-term historical trends in the academic humanities, the project has employed completion data that were classified using both the NSF and CIP systems. In these cases, either a note accompanying the chart or a break in the trend line indicates where the NSF classification leaves off and the CIP-based one begins. For those indicators reporting degree data gathered in 1987 or more recently (1995 or more recently for the charts and tables describing the proportions of all degrees received by members of racial/ethnic minority groups), CIP-coded data are used.

In the case of several of the degree-related indicators, the humanities are compared to certain other fields such as the sciences and engineering. The nature of these fields is specified in the Statement on the Scope of the “Humanities” for Purposes of the Humanities Indicators. These broad fields do not encompass all postsecondary programs. Therefore, where fields are being compared in terms of their respective shares of all degrees, the percentages will not add up to 100%. Also, none of the graphs showing change over time includes a data point for the academic year 1999, because the NCES did not release data for that year.

The degree counts presented as part of the Humanities Indicators are for first degrees only. Although second degrees (which result in a student graduating with a “double major”) are not common (in the 2006–2007 academic year, they accounted for 5.2% of all degree completions), anecdotal evidence suggests that a preponderance of such degrees are in the humanities. Second-degree data are not available via WebCASPAR. In order to obtain counts of such degrees, a separate analysis will need to be performed using NCES’s online Data Analysis System. If resources permit such an analysis in the future, degree counts included in subsequent editions of the Humanities Indicators would represent a more complete tally of humanities degrees awarded in the United States. Data on the number of students completing minors are not collected as part of IPEDS, but such information was compiled for selected humanities disciplines as part of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences-sponsored Humanities Departmental Survey (HDS; see the HDS final report, Table 12).

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