Study finds community colleges the only colleges in the world to develop humanities
Before the pandemic, the humanities were in a period of substantial growth in community colleges but of contraction everywhere else. And it is spreading to the whole world.
That’s the conclusion of a new study, released today, by the Humanities Indicators Project at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 2018, community colleges across the country awarded 413,246 associate’s degrees in liberal arts and humanities, the highest level on record. The number of associate’s degrees conferred in these disciplines increased almost every year from 1987 to 2018, growing an average of 4.3% per year.
Unlike the humanities degrees conferred at the bachelor’s level, almost all of the degrees counted here have been classified by the conferring institution as “liberal arts” and “liberal studies” rather than specific disciplines of the humanities. For example, of the 413,246 degrees compiled in the humanities for 2018, only a small share was awarded in a specific discipline (such as English or history). Since associate’s degrees are typically conferred with half the number of credits required for a typical bachelor’s degree program, students are less likely to specialize in a specific area. Nevertheless, the number and share of associate’s degrees awarded in specific disciplines of the humanities has increased.
In contrast, the share of humanities in all bachelor’s degrees awarded in the United States has been minimized since full recognition of degrees in the field became possible in 1987. The share of humanities in 2018, 10 , 2%, was less than a third the size of the share for science (health / medical, natural and behavioral / social sciences combined) and about half that for business / management.
Students earned 23,166 humanities degrees as a second major in 2018, with languages other than English being the most popular discipline in the humanities. The number of second major completions remained 10% lower than the peak of 2012, but reflected small increases in 2017 and 2018. In contrast, the number of second degrees completed in natural sciences, health sciences / medical and engineering increased significantly from 2012 to 2018. Humanities accounted for 22.9% of all second majors in 2018, the smallest share on record.
The Social Sciences and Humanities Indicators project then examined the 38 countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development for comparison. And the news is not good for the humanities.
From 2015 to 2018, the average share of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in OECD countries to humanities students decreased by 5% (from 5.7% to 5.4%), with only eight of the 35 countries reporting an increase in this share. The decline in the share of humanities in graduate degrees has been even more pronounced. The share of master’s degrees contracted by 11% (from 5.4% to 4.8% of diplomas) and the share of doctorates fell by 9% (from 9.1% to 8.3%).
Of the 33 OECD countries that provided data on doctorates, the United States ranked 19th for the share of doctorates awarded in the humanities in 2018. While 7.2% of all doctorates in the states United were awarded in humanities, the average share among countries providing data was 8.3 percent.