Note on Data Used to Calculate Discipline-Specific Degree Counts and Shares


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 a variety of other topics; for more on this major data collection program, see The HEGIS/IPEDS degree-completion data going back to 1966 have been made accessible to decision-makers, 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 with a broad base of quantitative information about the U.S. science, engineering, and technology enterprise.

The NSF has developed a set of standardized disciplinary categories 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, its disciplinary classification is most detailed in these areas. The utility of the NSF system for the purposes of the Humanities Indicators (HI) is limited. For example, the NSF scheme does not distinguish between the academic study of the arts, considered by the HI to be part of the humanities, and art performance. The HI thus cannot include in its tally those degrees conferred in the areas of musicology, art history, film studies, and drama history/criticism. Moreover, while the HI considers such disciplines as archeology, women’s studies, gay and lesbian studies, and Holocaust studies to be part of the humanities field, NSF categorizes them as social sciences. Additionally, NSF places interdisciplinary degrees in areas such as general humanities and liberal studies in a broad “Other” category that includes degrees for many disciplines that are not within the purview of the humanities as conceptualized by the HI. Consequently, such interdisciplinary degrees, along with those mentioned above, cannot be captured in humanities degree counts from 1966 to 1986.

For 1987 and later years (1995 and later for data on the race/ethnicity of degree recipients), however, 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 HI. (For an inventory of the disciplines and activities treated as part of the humanities by the HI, see the Statement on the Scope of the “Humanities” for Purposes of the Humanities Indicators.) The CIP was first developed by 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.

For the purposes of the Humanities Indicators the CIP has several advantages over the NSF classification system. For example, because the NSF system groups 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 HI cannot 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 HI can include degrees in all the excluded 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 categories included by the HI under the broad academic field headings (“humanities,” “natural sciences,” etc.) used throughout Part II of the HI, see the NSF and CIP Discipline Code Catalog. This catalog also indicates which degree programs the HI includes within specific humanities disciplines (e.g., for the purposes of the HI, 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 historical trends in the academic humanities, the HI 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 estimates based on the NSF classification system leave off and those based on CIP begin. 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 in the share of degrees awarded to members of traditionally underrepresented ethnic/minority groups 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 HI do not include “second majors” because NCES began collecting data about these degrees only in 2001. The HI deals separately with the issue of second majors in "Undergraduate Humanities Degrees as a Second Major."

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.

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