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The Humanities, Arts, and Education

The Vitality of the Humanities in U.S. Community Colleges

For years the staff and advisors of the Humanities Indicators have recognized that community colleges represent a critical area of humanities studies in higher education. We know, for instance that as of the most recent national study of postsecondary faculty, more than a third of all humanities faculty were employed at community colleges. And as we report today, a large number of students earn associates degrees that require a substantial number of humanities course credits. (Even these data underreport the role of community colleges in providing humanities education because they do not capture the many students enrolled in four-year colleges who rotate into community colleges to earn credits toward their general education requirements.) Regrettably, we lack the data necessary to capture a full picture of the humanities in community colleges, but today the Humanities Indicators adds a new item showing trends in students earning associate’s degrees by field.

The new item highlights two important aspects of the humanities at the community college level: 1) that they represent a large and growing presence in the form of students earning degrees in subjects such as liberal studies, which require a substantial number of humanities courses (as shown below); and 2) that unlike humanities degree completions at the baccalaureate level, completions of associate’s degrees have increased substantially over the past 35 years.

To mark the release of the new report, we invited Martha Kanter, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Higher Education at New York University and former U.S. Under Secretary of Education, to discuss the vital role community colleges play for the humanities in higher education.

January 19, 2015

Community College Students and the Humanities: New Opportunities for Learning and Growth

posted by Martha J. Kanter

More than 40 percent of our nation’s adults are unable to read, write, or compute at the competency level expected of America’s high school graduates, so it’s hardly a surprise, even if it is gravely disappointing and frustrating, to inform policy makers, and the public about the worth of the humanities.1 But what better way to elevate the discussion than with facts and policy strategies?

That is why the light that the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is shining on community colleges and the humanities is critical in this endeavor. Even today, too many More...

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