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Indicator II-12 Ethnic Distribution of 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, the Note on the Definition of Master’s Degrees and First Professional Degrees, the Note on the Calculation of Shares of Degrees Awarded to Members of Traditionally Underrepresented Ethnic Groups, and the Note on Racial/Ethnic Composition of Total U.S. Population.

The percentage of advanced degrees in the humanities awarded to students from traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic groups increased between 1995 and 2007 (see the Note on Data Used to Construct Degree-Related Indicators). By 2007 the share of humanities master’s degrees awarded to these students had grown to 11.5%, up from 7.9% in the mid-1990s (Figure II-12a; see the Note on the Definition of Master’s Degrees and First Professional Degrees). Over the same period, the percentage of doctorates bestowed on minority students increased by four percentage points, reaching 10.7% by 2007 (Figure II-12b).

At the master’s level, the share of humanities degrees going to members of traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic groups tended to fall somewhat short of that for all fields during this period, and this gap grew over time. In the case of doctoral degrees, the percentage of awards to minority students was consistently close to the percentage in all fields combined. (For an explanation of how these percentages were determined, see the Note on the Calculation of Shares of Degrees Awarded to Members of Traditionally Underrepresented Ethnic Groups For information regarding the racial/ethnic composition of the total U.S. population, see the Note on Racial/Ethnic Composition of Total U.S. Population.)

Figure II-12a, Full Size
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Figure II-12b, Full Size
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Figure II-12c depicts the ethnic composition of the master’s and first professional degree recipient population for selected fields in 2007. In that year, while the humanities awarded a small percentage of master’s degrees to African American students (4.7%) relative to several other fields, the humanities had one of the highest rates of receipt by Hispanics (6.2%). At the doctoral level, African American students were awarded a far greater percentage of degrees in education and the social service professions than in any other field (Figure II-12d). However, when education and the social service professions are excluded, the humanities were among the fields awarding the largest shares of doctorates to these students (4.5%). The proportion of humanities doctorates awarded to Hispanic students was comparable to that for African American students.

In 2007, the humanities awarded approximately 4% of all advanced degrees to students of Asian descent. This was a smaller share than for any field except education. American Indian students and those of Native Alaskan ancestry were awarded less than 1% of all advanced degrees in the humanities.

Figure II-12c, Full Size
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Figure II-12d, Full Size
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One of the most striking features of the 2007 data is the share of advanced humanities degree awards to temporary residents. The attraction of U.S. graduate programs in science and engineering to international students has been widely acknowledged. Less well appreciated is the fact that U.S. humanities departments also bestowed a nonnegligible share of their degrees (7.9% at the master’s level, 17.9% at the doctoral) on international students.

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).

Note on the Calculation of Shares of Degrees Awarded to Members of Traditionally Underrepresented Ethnic Groups

The shares of all degrees earned by members of traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic groups were calculated by dividing the number of humanities degrees completed by students identified by their institutions as African American (non-Hispanic), Hispanic, or American Indian/Alaska Native by the total number of degree completions in the humanities. Not included in the count of traditionally underrepresented minorities were (1) students designated by their educational institutions as being of “Other/Unknown Ethncity”1 and (2) international students—that is, temporary residents who were in the United States for the express purpose of attending school and who were likely to return to their home countries upon graduation (significant numbers of these individuals may be of African or Hispanic background, but the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the compiler of these data, does not request that institutions of higher learning collect racial/ethnicity data for such students).


According to the NCES, the compiler of these data, a student is assigned to this category only if he or she does not select a racial/ethnic designation and his or her educational institution finds it impossible to place the student in one of the NCES-defined racial/ethnic categories during established enrollment procedures or in any post-enrollment identification or verification process. Over time the percentage of students categorized as “Other/Unknown” has grown, thereby reducing the ability of postsecondary institutions, policymakers, and the general public to reliably track the racial/ethnic diversity of degree recipients.

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Note on Racial/Ethnic Composition of Total U.S. Population

Using information provided by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Division,* the Humanities Indicators has calculated the following estimates of the share of the total national population represented by each of the categories employed by the National Center for Education Statistics for the purpose of reporting the percentage of degrees awarded to students of different races/ethnicities (estimates are for July, 2008):

African American, Non-Hispanic
Asian or Pacific Islander
Native American or Alaska Native

* Data drawn from U.S. Census Bureau, “Table 3: Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin for the United States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008 (NC-EST2008-03),” released May 14, 2009,

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