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Indicator II-20 Degree Completions in Languages and Literatures Other than English
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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, the Note on the Data Used to Calculate Degree Awards in English Language and Literature and in Languages and Literatures Other than English, 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 “Languages and Literatures Other than English”).

Trends in degree completions in languages and literatures other than English (LOTE) over the last four decades are similar to those observed in English (Indicator II-18, English Language and Literature Degree Completions) and history (Indicator II-19, History Degree Completions). Thus, while the number of LOTE degrees grew fairly steadily from 1966 into the early 1970s, the next decade saw a sharp reversal of this trend (Figures II-20a, II-20b, and II-20c). During that period, the number of students awarded LOTE bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees declined steadily for a total decrease of approximately 50%.

At all three degree levels degree completions have rebounded but to differing extents. Other than during a brief period in the mid-1990s, the number of bachelor’s degrees increased. By 2007 the number was 18,206, 84% of the 1969 zenith. The mid-1990s saw the number of master’s degrees reach approximately 55% of the early 1970s high point. The remainder of the 1990s brought another, far less steep, decline in master’s awards. But then the numbers began to rise again, and by 2007 the number of master’s degrees was back to its mid-1990s peak recovery level. For Ph.D. awards, the highest level of recovery from the deep slump of the 1980s came in 1998, when degree completions returned to 73% of their 1973 high, a level near which they remained through 2007.

Figure II-20a, Full Size
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Figure II-20b, Full Size
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Figure II-20c, Full Size
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At the height of their popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s, LOTE degrees represented approximately 3% of all degrees at the bachelor’s and doctoral degrees and 2% of master’s degrees. Subsequently, these shares declined, bottoming out in the mid- to late 1980s. At that time, the share of all bachelor’s degrees awarded by LOTE programs was approximately a third of what it had been at its greatest, while the discipline’s share of all master’s degrees was 24% of what it had been at its height. The decline was not quite as pronounced at the doctoral level: in 1988, LOTE’s share was approximately 45% of what it had been in its peak year of 1973. The LOTE share of degrees was fairly constant at these reduced levels up through 2007.

Figure II-20d, Full Size
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Figure II-20e, Full Size
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Data on the racial/ethnic distribution of LOTE degrees over the 1987–2007 period reveal that after a decline in the 1980s the percentage of bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded to members of traditionally underrepresented ethnic groups began to rise (Figures II-20d and II-20e). At the bachelor’s level, this growth continued until 2001, when the underrepresented minority share reached approximately 22% (up from 14% in 1977). The share remained at this level through 2007. At the master’s level, growth was almost constant through 2007, bringing the share of master’s degrees awarded to these students up to 18%, an increase of 7 percentage points from 1977. The increase at each level was driven almost entirely by a surge in the proportion of LOTE degrees awarded to Hispanic students. The percentage of bachelor’s and master’s degrees going to members of other ethnic groups, on the other hand, remained at a low level (less than 5% for each group) throughout the period. (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.)

For Ph.D.’s, the share of LOTE degrees awarded to traditionally underrepresented minorities rose steeply in the early 1980s but then declined. By the mid-1990s the percentage was back down to the level observed in the late 1970s (Figure II-20f). But beginning in 1995, the percentage grew quite steadily, so that by 2002, the proportion of doctorates awarded to these students was 15%, an increase of 7 percentage points over the 1977 level. Since the early 2000s the share has declined somewhat, with a share for 2007 of 12%. As at the lower degree levels, movement in the minority share of Ph.D.’s was due almost entirely to changing levels of doctorates awarded to Hispanic students.

Figure II-20f, Full Size
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A striking development in LOTE degrees between 1977 and 2007—although the trend has been far from linear, with strong surges followed by steady declines—was the increase in the share of advanced degrees awarded to temporary residents. At the master’s level, the 2007 share of 19% represents a 13-point increase from 1977. In the case of doctoral degrees, the share was 31%, up 22 points from the late 1970s. In contrast, at the bachelor’s level temporary residents earned a consistently small share (approximately 2–3%) of LOTE degrees throughout this period.

In 1966, women were already the majority of those receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in LOTE (Figure II-20g). From then on, while the percentage of female bachelor’s recipients remained steady at 70%, the number of female master’s recipients increased, with the percentage rising from 58% in 1966 to approximately 70% in 1977, a level near which it remained for most of the subsequent 30 years. The share of LOTE doctorates awarded to women saw steeper increases. Hovering at about 30% in the late 1960s, women’s share grew steadily thereafter, and in 1977 gender parity was achieved. By 2007, women represented 57% of all recipients of LOTE doctorates (the largest proportion of LOTE Ph.D.’s earned by women, 62%, was recorded in 2001).

Figure II-20g, Full Size
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Note on the Data Used to Calculate Degree Awards in English Language and Literature (ELL) and in Languages and Literatures Other than English (LOTE)

For the years 1966–1986, degree completion data are available only by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) standardized disciplinary categories. For those years, the Humanities Indicators uses NSF’s “English and Literature” category as the basis of its ELL degree counts. This category includes degrees earned in comparative literature, classics, and classical languages and literatures (but omits degrees in ancient and medieval Greek and Latin—these are included by NSF in its “Foreign Languages” category).

For years 1987–2007, when degree completion data are available by the more detailed Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP), the Humanities Indicators treats degrees in classics, classical languages and literatures, Greek, and Latin as LOTE degrees. Comparative literature degrees are excluded from the ELL degree counts for this latter period. A subsequent iteration of the Humanities Indicators will include a separate indicator for comparative literature, which is considered by the Humanities Indicators to be its own discipline.

For an explanation of the difference between the NSF and CIP classification systems as well as an inventory of the various degree programs that are included by the Humanities Indicators under the headings of “English Language and Literature” and “Languages and Literatures Other than English”, see the Note on the Data Used to Construct Degree-Related Indicators).

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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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