March 27, 2017

New Data About Humanities R&D Expenditures at U.S. Colleges and Universities, Charitable Giving in the Humanities, NEH Funding, and More

The highlights below come Humanities Indicators, a project of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. A visit to each entry includes additional data, data visualizations, and options to download t
he data in .xls, .ppt, and/or .pdf.


New Today

Humanities Research and Development Expenditures at Colleges and Universities

  • rom 2005 to 2015, inflation-adjusted expenditures on academic humanities RD increased in every year except 2008 (Indicator IV-10a). Expenditures in 2015, approximately $430.3 million, were 86% higher than in 2005 (the first year in which reliable data of this kind were collected).
  • Even at their 2015 high, expenditures on academic humanities RD were dwarfed by those on research in the sciences and engineering. For example, expenditures on medical research in 2015 were almost 50 times as large as funding for research in the humanities. In 2015, spending for humanities research equaled 0.6% of the amount dedicated to science and engineering RD (when all scientific fields—including agricultural sciences and others not depicted here—are considered; Indicator IV-10b).
  • The percentage growth in college and university spending on humanities research from 2005 to 2015 was substantially greater than that observed in many science fields, such as physical sciences (including math; an increase of 6%) and engineering (33%). Comparisons between the humanities and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) should be made with caution, however, given the former’s much smaller 2005 baseline value.
  • The percentage growth in humanities funding over the 2005–2015 period also outstripped that of other non-STEM fields (69% for all such fields combined).
  • Federal support constituted approximately 14% of all academic humanities RD dollars in 2015—less than half the share of federal funding in each of the other fields examined here, which ranged from 32% of the funding for other non–science and engineering fields to as high as 66% for the mathematical and physical sciences (Indicator IV-10c).
  • From 2005 to 2009, every field experienced a decline in the share of its academic RD expenditures funded by the federal government. STEM fields then experienced increases in 2010 and 2011 that brought their federally funded shares back to sizes similar to or exceeding those for 2005.[2] In contrast, the federally funded portion of humanities research rebounded slightly in 2009 but then continued to shrink until 2011. From 2011 to 2015, all fields saw further contraction in the share of funding coming from the federal government, but the change was more pronounced in the humanities than in other fields. In 2015, the federally funded share of humanities research was 16 percentage points smaller than it had been in 2005

Charitable Giving for Humanities Activities

  • In 2015, giving from corporations, foundations, and individuals to arts, culture, and humanities (ACH) organizations reached $17.1 billion—the highest level on record in inflation-adjusted dollars (Indicator IV-7). According to the Giving USA report, many ACH organizations launched large-scale fundraising campaigns in 2015.
  • Donations from charitable sources to ACH organizations increased almost 250% from 1985 to 2000 (rising from $4.2 billion to $14.5 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars) and then experienced another surge up to $17.1 billion in 2007. With the recession came a sharp curtailment of charitable giving to these organizations, with donated monies declining 21% (to $13.5 billion) in 2008—a much steeper drop than for total charitable giving (7.2%).
  • In recent years, the growth in charitable giving to ACH organizations has outpaced the growth in giving to all organizations. From its low point in 2008, giving to the humanities has risen 26.2%, while overall giving has risen at only about half that rate (13.2%). In 2015, ACH organizations’ share of all gifts reached 4.6%, which is close to the highest recorded level.

Data Released (in the Past Month)

Language Instruction in Elementary and Secondary Schools

  • In academic year 2007–2008, 25% of elementary schools taught languages other than English, a decline of six percentage points from 1996–1997 (Indicator I-7a).
  • Over the two decades for which data are available, private elementary schools were substantially more likely than public schools to expose their students to languages other than English, and the disparity increased over time. In 2007–2008, 51% of private elementary schools offered languages other than English, a share 36 percentage points higher than for public schools, while 20 years previously the gap was 17 points.
  • American secondary schools were more likely than elementary schools to offer LOTE instruction (Indicator I-7b). In 2007–2008, 79% of secondary schools had LOTE classes. Middle schools, however, were not as likely as high schools to provide students LOTE learning opportunities, and the difference in shares for 2007–2008 (33 percentage points) was the largest recorded and a reversal of a trend toward greater parity.

Reading Proficiency as Compared with that in Science and Math

  • In 2015, a majority of students at each grade level failed to demonstrate proficiency in reading, math, or science.
  • Among fourth graders, 36% of students demonstrated reading skills at or above the proficient level in 2015, while 31% displayed below basic skills (Indicator I-1d).
  • The proportion of eighth and 12th graders demonstrating at least proficiency on the reading assessment was similar to that of their younger counterparts. In the upper grades, students were somewhat less likely than fourth graders to demonstrate very low reading achievement (Indicators I-1e and I-1f).
  • In 2015, fourth-grade students performed better on the math assessment than on the reading, with a share demonstrating below basic skills that was 13 percentage points smaller than that for reading.
  • Among eighth graders, reading performance was similar to that in math and science in 2015.
  • At the 12th-grade level, students performed better in reading than in either science or math in 2015.

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Funding Levels

  • The period from the late 1960s to 1979 was one of substantial, virtually uninterrupted growth in NEH funding, with appropriations for the agency increasing from approximately $34 million to just under $403 million in inflation-adjusted value (Indicator IV-1a). Funding, however, quickly dropped from this historic high, and after four years of marked reductions by 1983 appropriations were down 33%. (For the unadjusted request and appropriations values, click here.)
  • Funding for the NEH plateaued from the early 1980s until 1996, when a major contraction—similar to that experienced by the agency in the early 1980s—occurred. At that time, total new appropriations were cut 37%, from $255 million to $160 million in inflation adjusted dollars. Funding remained in the vicinity of this reduced level through 2014. In recent years, the high watermark for funding was 2010, when the agency received an appropriation of $185 million. But the effects of inflation and funding cuts brought the resources made available to the agency by Congress down to $144 million (a 22% decrease) in 2013, before a modest increase to almost $148 million in 2016.
  • The President’s budget request for NEH has tended to exceed the eventual appropriation received by the agency. The 1980s, however, were a notable exception to this general rule, particularly in the early years of the decade when the Reagan administration’s requests were well below the amounts of funding Congress ultimately directed to the NEH.
  • Although the absolute amounts of agency funding directed toward administrative purposes have been stable (in constant 2016 dollars) since the late 1970s, shrinking program budgets mean that from 1979 (the peak year of NEH funding) to 2014, the administrative share of the NEH budget increased from 7% to almost 19% of the total agency appropriation (Indicator IV-1b). In FY 2015, the share of the NEH budget allocated to administration fell slightly (from 18.8% to 18.5%), and under the proposed budget for FY 2016, the share would shrink further (to 18.4%).
Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.