The "Crisis in the Humanities" Home Page




The goal of this web page is to provide resources for faculty in humanities departments who are engaged in discussions about budgetary support for their units with administrators who may not have a humanities background.  Two features of the recent national coverage of a "crisis in the humanities" may render such administrators less supportive than they would otherwise be: the focus on claims of a serious nation-wide decline in undergraduate enrollment in humanities courses and the corresponding claim that undergraduates are turning away from such courses because they do not provide an adequate foundation for seeking post-graduation employment.  There are, of course, a number of important ways in which faculty can and should defend the value of the humanistic disciplines that do not involve engaging with either of these two claims.  But the focus here is on providing resources with which faculty in the humanities can help their administrators to put these two particular claims in perspective.  I have attempted to focus on readings that I think will be most effective in this context because they are short, clear, empirically based, recently published in nationally recognized venues and written in a non-polemical style.  If you know of additional readings of this sort that you think could usefully be added to those I have linked below, please send them to me at david.boonin@colorado.edu.  I have also provided links to the two recent reports that seem largely to have triggered the latest round of national discussion.  Thanks, and best wishes for surviving the crisis.

Two Recent Reports

    Harvard College Report

    American Academy of Arts and Sciences Report


Analyzing the Numbers

    Nate Silver, "As More Attend College, Majors Become More Career Focused"
  (New York Times, July 12, 2013)

"The relative decline of majors like English is modest when accounting for the increased propensity of Americans to go to college. In fact, the number of new degrees in English is fairly similar to what it has been for most of the last 20 years as a share of the college-age population. . . In 2011, 1.1 out of every 100 21-year-olds graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English, down only incrementally from 1.2 in 2001 and 1.3 in 1991. And the percentage of English majors as a share of the population is actually higher than it was in 1981, when only 0.7 out of every 100 21-year-olds received a degree in English."

    Michael Bérubé, "The Humanities Declining?  Not According to the Numbers."  (The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 1, 2013)

"undergraduate enrollments in the humanities have held steady since 1980 (in relation to all degree holders, and in relation to the larger age cohort), and undergraduate enrollments in the arts and humanities combined are almost precisely where they were in 1970."

    Ben Schmidt, "A Crisis in the Humanities?" (June 10, 2013)

"I made one of the first versions of this chart [featured as evidence of a serious decline in humanities enrollments in a recent Wall Street Journal article] working on the Academy’s Humanities Indicators several years ago. And although it shows up in the press periodically to enforce a story of decay, some broader perspective on the data makes clear that the 'Humanities in crisis' story is seriously overstated."

     Scott Saul, "The Humanities in Crisis? Not at Most Schools" (New York Times, July 3, 2013)

"At schools nationwide, the number of students majoring in the 'softest' humanities — English, foreign languages and literatures, the arts — has been remarkably steady over the last two decades, hovering between 9.8 percent and 10.6 percent of total bachelor’s degrees awarded. . . We should be wary of declaring 'the end of the English major' when what has really happened is that, in terms of humanities enrollments, schools like Yale have gone from exceptional to merely above average."

    David Laurence, "Mismeasuring the Humanities" (July 2, 2013)

"The 7% figure often cited as the percentage of college graduates who majored in the humanities in 2010 reflects a National Science Foundation aggregation that, for example, categorizes art history degrees with the arts rather than with the humanities . . .Using a more capacious aggregation that includes academic studies in the arts and in humanities-connected programs in area studies, . . . degrees in the humanities have steadily held a share between 10% and 12% for more than two decades."

    John Marx, "Humanists: do not panic about your declining market share" (June 29, 2013)

"In such a crowded academy, it is impossible for ANY single degree program to retain the shares that History or English could have claimed midcentury. What has happened is not decline, therefore, but increased differentiation."

    Jordan Weissman, "Actually, the Humanities Aren't in Crisis" (The Atlantic, June 24, 2013) 

    Jennifer Schuessler, "Quants Ask: What Crisis in the Humanities?"  (New York Times, July 12, 2013)

    Anthony T. Grafton and James Grossman, "The Humanities in Dubious Battle: What the Harvard Report Doesn't Tell Us" (Chronicle of Higher Education, July 1, 
    2013)


Humanities Majors and the Job Market

    Jordan Weissman, "The Best Argument for Studying English? The Employment Market" (The Atlantic, June 25, 2013)

"Immediately after school, English and History majors experienced 9.8 percent and 9.5 percent unemployment, respectively. For economics and political science, meanwhile, the figures are 10.4 percent and 11.1 percent. Score one for the lit nerds. Meanwhile, in computer science, which is regularly talked about as if it's the single most practical major a young person can choose these days, graduates are still staring at 8.7 percent joblessness. (Worth emphasizing, here: none of these figures are particularly good.)"

    Alexander Beecroft, "The Humanities: What Went Right?"  (The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 3, 2013)

"One recent survey, by the Web site payscale.com, paints a somewhat depressing picture of salaries, with humanities majors typically earning from $5,000 to $15,000 less than those with undergraduate professional degrees. Fifteen years after graduation, however, the recipients of terminal undergraduate degrees in the humanities are doing much better: Classics majors ($75,900) are outperforming accounting majors ($74,500); English majors ($65,500) are outperforming those in multimedia and Web design ($64,900); and history majors have caught up to nursing majors, at $70,200."

    John Wihbey, "College Majors, Employment, and 'Sciences v. Humanities' Data" (July 1, 2013)

"There is no easy split between the sciences and the humanities in terms of assured job prospects. . . .  [In 2010 and 2011] Computer science majors saw an unemployment rate of 8.7%, but drama and theater arts majors had a significantly lower rate, at 6.4%"

there is no easy split between the sciences and the humanities in terms of assured job prospects. The overall unemployment rate for recent college graduates was 7.9% over the period studied, the researchers note.

Key findings relating to recent college graduates include:

  • The lowest unemployment rates were among elementary education (5%) and nursing (4.8%) majors, while information systems (14.7%) and architecture (12.8%) saw the highest rates of unemployment.
  • Computer science majors saw an unemployment rate of 8.7%; but drama and theater arts majors had a significantly lower rate, at 6.4%.
- See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/education/college-majors-employment-sciences-vs-humanities-data#sthash.tLkNJcVh.dpuf
    Amy Scott, "What Do Employers Really Want From College Grads?" (March 4, 2013)

"More than half of [the employers who responded to the survey] said they have trouble finding qualified people for job openings. They said recent grads too often don’t know how to communicate effectively. And they have trouble adapting, problem solving and making decisions – things employers say they should have learned in college. . . . Sounds a lot like an argument for liberal arts education, at a time when more students are being told to study science and technology as a path to a career.  Maguire Associates, the firm that conducted the survey, says the findings suggest colleges should break down the 'false dichotomy of liberal arts and career development,' saying they’re 'intrinsically linked'."
    
    Max Nisson, "11 Reasons to Ignore the Haters and Major in the Humanities" (Business Insider, June 27, 2013)

    Humanities + (a blog "bridging humanities and the world of work")

    Strategic National Arts Alumni Project ("tracking the lives and careers of arts graduates")