Note on the Data Used to Calculate Humanities Degree Counts and Shares


The bulk of the data that form the basis of this indicator is drawn from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS; 1966–1986) and its successor, the Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS; 1987–present), 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 IPEDS, see

Degree-completion data for years 1948 through 1965 were derived from the Survey of Earned Degrees, which was first administered by the Office of Education (the Department of Education’s predecessor) and later by NCES. For the trend lines extending back to 1948, data are presented only for a limited portfolio of humanities disciplines because the academic discipline classification systems employed by NCES in its reporting on the Survey of Earned Degrees and HEGIS were not fine-grained enough to capture the full complement of disciplines considered by the Humanities Indicators (HI) to be within the scope of the humanities. (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.)

For 1987 and later years (1995 and later for data on the race/ethnicity of degree recipients), earned degrees are categorized according to the more detailed Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP). The CIP was developed by NCES in 1980 as a way of accounting for the tremendous variety of degree programs offered by American institutions of higher learning and has been revised several times since its introduction, most recently in 2020. The CIP has also been adopted by Statistics Canada as its standard disciplinary classification system. An analysis of completions using CIP permits the HI to include earned degrees in a substantially greater number of the disciplines considered by the HI to be part of the humanities field.

For example, with CIP-coded data, 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. Likewise, CIP allows communications programs that fall within the HI’s definition of the humanities, such as media studies and rhetoric, to be distinguished from professional aspects of the field, such as journalism and political communication. Additionally, when using CIP-coded data, the HI can include degrees in such disciplines as archeology, women’s studies, gay and lesbian studies, and Holocaust studies in its counts of humanities degrees from 1987 onward. CIP-coded data are always the basis of humanities degree counts for indicators that report degree data only post-1986 data.

For an inventory of the CIP disciplinary categories included by the HI under the field heading of “humanities” (as well as those categories of the NSF-developed taxonomy of academic disciplines that are the basis of certain tabulations of humanities degrees for years 1966–1986), see the Degree Program 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 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%.

The bachelor’s degree counts presented 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 under the topic “Humanities Bachelor's Degrees as a Second Major,” but it is important to note that some institutions do not report second majors to NCES. 

Data on the number of students completing minors are not collected as part of IPEDS, but such information has been compiled for selected humanities disciplines as part of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences–sponsored Humanities Departmental Survey.

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