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Indicator II-19 History Degree Completions
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Updated (4/8/2010) with data from 2007.

See the
Note on the Data Used to Construct Degree-Related Indicators, the Note on the Calculation of Shares of Degrees Awarded to Members of Traditionally Underrepresented Ethnic Groups, the Note on Racial/Ethnic Composition of Total U.S. Population, and the NSF and CIP Discipline Code Catalog (for an inventory of the specific degree programs included by the Humanities Indicators under the heading of “History”).

With approximately 45,000 bachelor’s degrees awarded, 1971 was the banner year for the nation’s undergraduate history programs (Figure II-19a); it was also the high point of a strong trend of increased enrollments during the latter half of the 1960s. But in 1972, the number of history degrees began to drop, and the ensuing decline, which lasted well into the 1980s, was as precipitous as the earlier rise had been. In 1985, the nadir for history as measured by degree completions, the nation’s history departments awarded only 16,142 bachelor’s degrees. This number subsequently increased, markedly so in the early 1990s and then again beginning in 2002, bringing the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2007 to 77% of the early-1970s high.

Figure II-19a, Full Size
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History’s share of all degrees experienced a similarly sharp decline through the mid-1980s and remained well below the record levels reached in the late 1960s. Although history awarded 5.7% of all bachelor’s degrees in 1967, this share had decreased to 1.6% by 1985. Thereafter, the absolute number of bachelor’s completions in history started to increase. Nonetheless, growth in the total number of bachelor’s degrees awarded kept history’s share in the vicinity of 2% of all degrees from 1985 to 2007.

At the upper degree levels (Figures II-19b and II-19c), trends in history degree completions from 1966 to 2007 were generally similar to the trend in bachelor’s degree completions. The exception has been doctoral degree completions in the period from 2000 to 2007, when the number of awards declined steadily.

Figure II-19b, Full Size
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Figure II-19c, Full Size
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Data describing the distribution of history degrees by ethnicity are available only as far back as 1995. (For earlier years, such data can be disaggregated only by broad disciplinary grouping; history is included among the social sciences.) At the bachelor’s level, although the share of history degrees awarded to members of traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic groups increased slightly over the latter half of the 1990s, it subsequently leveled off and then declined, for a net increase of only two percentage points between 1995 and 2007 (Figure II-19d). Growth in the share of history degrees awarded to such students at the master’s and doctoral degree levels was somewhat greater, with the percentage increasing by three and six points (Figures II-19e and II-19f). In 2007, approximately 10% of all advanced degrees were awarded to students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. (For an explanation of how these percentages were calculated, 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 Note on Racial/Ethnic Composition of Total U.S. Population.)

Figure II-19d, Full Size
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Figure II-19e, Full Size
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Figure II-19f, Full Size
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Between 1966 and 2007, the percentage of women obtaining degrees in history increased at all levels, although most dramatically so in the case of Ph.D.’s. At that level, women’s share grew from 12% to 40%, bringing their representation to a level on par with that of bachelor’s recipients (Figure II-19g). At the master’s level, the gender distribution of degrees came closest to being equal. In 2007, 48% of history master’s degrees were awarded to women.

Figure II-19g, Full Size
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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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