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Indicator II-14 Humanities Degree Completions: An International Comparison
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Updated (4/2/2010) with data from 2007.

As other indicators have revealed, over the past 40 years the humanities have become less prominent in American universities in terms of the proportion of degrees awarded (see Indicator II-1, Undergraduate Degrees in the Humanities, and Indicator II-10, Advanced Degrees in the Humanities). But historical comparisons are not the only relevant assessment of the United States’ strength in the humanities. An international picture offers a different but equally valuable perspective on the status of higher education in the humanities in American society.

Each year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) gathers a wealth of data on the education-related investments and outcomes of its member nations. In order to arrive at meaningful comparisons among countries that have substantially different educational systems, the OECD uses the International Standard Classification of Education, which was created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the early 1970s to facilitate the efforts of the United Nations and other organizations to aggregate and present international education statistics. (For a roster of the disciplines that UNESCO includes within the humanities, see Humanities as Defined by the International Standard Classification of Education.) Unlike the Humanities Indicators, UNESCO treats theology as a humanities discipline (theology degrees constituted 1% of all degrees awarded by U.S. institutions in 2007).

Figure II-14 compares the percentages of all tertiary degrees (U.S. bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are all considered tertiary degrees) OECD countries awarded in the humanities and arts in 2007. The United States ranked fourth among the 27 OECD countries for which data were available (data are presented only for 2007, the most current year for which such information is available, because the U.S.’ position in the rankings changed little over the several preceding years). The U.S. percentage was similar to that of Italy and approximately five points lower than the humanities degree leader, Japan, which bestows nearly 15% of its tertiary degrees in humanities disciplines.

Figure II-14, Full Size
Supporting Data Supporting Data

Humanities as Defined by the International Standard Classification of Education


Religion and theology;
Foreign languages and cultures: living or ‘dead’ languages and their literatures, area studies;
Native languages: current or vernacular language and its literature;
Other humanities: interpretation and translation, linguistics, comparative literature, history, archaeology, philosophy, ethics.

Source: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 1997 (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2006), 42,

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