The Humanities Aren’t Really in “Crisis”

Last week I wrote about a column by David Brooks in the New York Times in which he argued that the humanities were in crisis in part because “a half-century ago, 14 percent of college degrees were awarded to people who majored in the humanities. Today, only 7 percent of graduates in the country are humanities majors.”

Actually I (and, well, Brooks) might have been wrong.

According to this piece by Jordan Weissmann at the Atlantic:

The number of undergraduates earning degrees in English, foreign languages, history, or philosophy fell by about half between 1966 and 2010. But… the late 1960s were actually a historical outlier, no doubt connected to the sudden flood of baby boomers onto campus. Most of the subsequent drop-off, meanwhile, actually happened in the 1970s. Since then, the humanities have accounted for roughly 6 to 8 percent of all college degrees.

The humanities accounted for only about 9 percent of degrees in 1950.

This graph produced by the Chronicle of Higher Education demonstrates what’s really going on here:


I wrote, “if we don’t have perspective on our civilization, and an individual’s place within it, a focus on STEM majors, and creating policy ‘so when they get out of school, they can get a job’ starts to look pretty empty.” This still strikes me as an essentially valid statement, but the truth is there’s no indication we’re losing perspective on our civilization.

The humanities seem to be holding steady.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer