The State of the Humanities

“Indicators” are released to provide data on students, faculty and American life.

January 7, 2009
Between 1988 and 2004, the percentage of humanities faculty members feeling "very satisfied" with their jobs increased by 10 percentage points, to 45 percent. When adjusted for inflation, most humanities faculty members saw their salaries dip slightly in the early 1990s, and then saw increases for the next decade. The net increase from 1987 to 2003 was about 5 percent for assistant and associate professors and 3 percent for full professors. In 2003, college graduates who were 10 years out of their undergraduate institution were largely concentrated in two fields: education and business.

These are among the statistics being released today in the Humanities Indicators Prototype, a project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The data come from a wide range of sources and cover graduate and undergraduate education, as well as elementary and secondary education, and indicators that relate broadly to American life.

The prototype edition released today is based on existing sources of data from government agencies and other organizations. Future editions are planned to include data collected by the academy as well as various scholarly groups that are also backing the project. The idea is that similar statistics gathered by federal agencies about science fields are available with greater frequency and are thus more current than much of the available information about the humanities. The approach to the data is straightforward -- with descriptions of the numbers, trends, and the sources of information.

Analysis about why trend lines head in certain directions isn't generally provided. And while much of the data are about topics on which humanities professors have strong feelings, the project largely leaves to them the task of expressing those feelings. (There are five essays that accompany the project, on topics such as the humanities workforce and the state of humanities research funding.)

The importance of timely data -- more timely than now exist -- is evident in that many key figures are five or more years old. Humanities professors at many institutions -- especially this year but in recent years as well -- have reported tightening budgets, and the impact of such contraction isn't evident here. But that's why project organizers are pushing for more regular collection of data.

Other highlights from the indicators released today:

  • Colleges and universities reported a humanities research spending increase of 7 percent between the 2005 fiscal year and 2006 fiscal year, when expenditures reached $208 million.
  • Spending by colleges on humanities research represented 0.45 percent of all research spending (most of which goes to science and engineering) in 2006.
  • Between 2000 and 2005 in the publishing of humanities books, fine arts saw the greatest percentage increase: 64 percent. The numbers of religion, history, and performing arts titles also increased by substantial percentages.
  • Of humanities bachelor's degrees, the largest share (about one third) are awarded in English. The indicators note that while ethnic, cultural and gender studies have seen dramatic increases in scholarly interest in recent decades, that hasn't been matched by undergraduate majors, with less than 2 percent of degrees awarded in the humanities going to those fields.
  • While just over half of all bachelor's degrees in the humanities were awarded to women in 1966, with the share increased to 60 percent by 2004.
  • By 2004, the humanities had lost over 75 percent of the share of all master’s degrees they were awarding in the late 1960s, while the share of doctoral degrees had decreased more than 45 percent from the peak levels of the mid-1970s.
  • In 1993, 38 percent of Americans agreed with the statement "High schools and colleges make students spend too much time reading 'classics' that have little relevance in today’s world."



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