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Humanities and Liberal Arts Education Across America's Colleges: How Much Is There?

Humanities and Liberal Arts Education Across America's Colleges: How Much Is There?

This short report provides a systematic accounting of the provision of humanities and liberal arts education at public colleges in the United States, including community colleges.

Key findings

  • Humanities and liberal arts education in America’s colleges is not in decline. Across the nation’s community colleges, the number and share of humanities and liberal arts degrees awarded annually have risen since 2000. Although over the past 15 years the share of bachelor’s degrees awarded at four-year public colleges in these fields has fallen, the absolute number of humanities and liberal arts degrees awarded at two- and four-year public colleges combined has risen. And the numbers and shares of declared humanities and liberal arts majors at two- and four-year public colleges have roughly held steady, accounting for the Great Recession, since 2007.
  • College requirements for humanities and liberal arts coursework are best described as a patchwork. They are based on a complex mix of interwoven college and program requirements, and they allow students considerable flexibility as to the amount of humanities and liberal arts they take in college.
  • All degrees, regardless of subject matter, involve a significant proportion of coursework in humanities and liberal arts. Almost one quarter of coursework for a four-year STEM degree is in these fields.
  • Visual and performing arts is becoming the dominant field within humanities and liberal arts. Community college graduates take as much coursework in visual and performing arts as they do in English or all other humanities and liberal arts courses combined. At four-year colleges, a growing proportion of bachelor’s degrees are in visual and performing arts. This field has supplanted English language and literature as the most popular degree in the humanities and liberal arts.
  • Community college transfer students are an important group of humanities and liberal arts students. They complete as much coursework in these fields as native four-year college students, but most of that coursework is taken before they transfer. It is critical to determine if these students are prepared for humanities and liberal arts coursework at four-year colleges.