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Humanities Majors Rise at Community Colleges

The number of bachelor’s degrees in the humanities awarded in 2015 (212,512) was down five percent from the year before and nearly ten percent from 2012, the high point for such degrees. The figures are from an analysis published recently by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as part of the organization’s Humanities Indicators project.

However, the picture may be different for community colleges, where humanities majors for associate degrees appear to be rising. Here’s the AAAS special report. While such a trend should gladden the hearts of faculty members in the humanities, the report also acknowledges that the number of declared majors by students at two-year schools is subject to distortion.

As you know, some schools are consolidating—and in some cases abolishing—specific majors, offering a more generic transfer-oriented course of study to facilitate smoother articulation. The recent trend toward Guided Pathways also may complicate accurate measurement of certain majors. Universities require more exactitude, with degree plans fashioned for students by each department. Another dilemma is determining what disciplines fall into the humanities category. History, for instance, is often classified with the social sciences, along with government and sociology. That can mess up the quantification.

It would be nice to think the humanities are surging at community colleges, and the report may offer some encouragement, but it’s hard to see how such optimism squares with a countertrend at universities.