How Humanities/Liberal Arts Coursework Influences Degree Completion

January 2018–December 2019

Humanities and liberal arts (HLA) coursework is a significant part of almost every college program for students across all majors. Yet its influence on students’ success in college receives very little quantitative or empirical attention. This project examined how HLA coursework influences bachelor’s degree completion for students who transfer from community colleges. Using quantitative and qualitative data, this project answered these questions:

  • How much does HLA coursework at community college help with degree completion?
  • How much do high grades in HLA coursework at community college help with degree completion?
  • Does HLA coursework matter more or less than coursework in other fields?

This project also investigated the scale of HLA coursework by community college students who complete a bachelor’s degree and especially those who complete a bachelor’s degree in a humanities or liberal arts field. Knowing the scale of HLA coursework helps answer these basic questions:

  • How much preparation in HLA do all degree completers actually receive at community college? How much more preparation do degree-completers in HLA receive over degree completers in other fields?
  • Do students “load up” on HLA coursework in community colleges before transferring? Do degree completers outperform other students in their HLA coursework?

The goal of the research was to inform stakeholders about how the quantity and quality of HLA achievement by community college students help those students transfer and then complete a four-year degree.

A second phase of this project included a literature review on improving instruction in the humanities and liberal arts in community colleges. CCRC researchers consulted experts in the field to identify promising strategies for strengthening HLA instruction in community colleges. This work resulted in a paper that summarized available research, compiled promising approaches for improvement, identified unanswered questions, and called for additional research to advance student learning and success in the humanities and liberal arts.

This project was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Project Lead

Thomas Bailey