January 21, 2022

Higher Education: “A Profile of Humanities Departments Pre-Pandemic”

A new report from  Humanities Indicators/AAAS.

Direct to Full Text: The State of the Humanities In Four-Year Colleges and Universities (2017)
358 pages; PDF. 

From a HI Summary

A wide-ranging survey of humanities departments finds that prior to the pandemic, most humanities disciplines were relatively unchanged since the Great Recession, except in one key regard: fewer students were completing undergraduate degrees. The new report examines trends in the number of faculty and students, as well as departments’ involvement in online teaching, student career preparation, and the digital and public humanities.

Among the key findings:


  • Despite the common perception that tenured and tenure-track faculty are being replaced by adjuncts, the survey detected no statistically significant increase from 2012 to 2017 in the number or share of faculty members who were off the tenure track (for the 13 humanities disciplines included in both rounds of the study).
  • In 2017, 62% of humanities faculty members at four-year colleges and universities were tenured or on the tenure track.
  • A slight majority of the faculty members in humanities disciplines were women, but the share ranged from 27% in philosophy to 89% in women/gender studies.


  • Enrollment in undergraduate humanities courses in the U.S. was approximately six million, while enrollment in graduate courses was in the vicinity of 400,000 (students enrolled in more than one course were counted in each of those courses).
  • The average number of students earning undergraduate degrees per humanities department declined by a statistically significant amount, but the number completing humanities minors was unchanged.
  • While four of 13 humanities disciplines saw declines in undergraduate degrees and majors, only two—English and languages/literatures other than English—experienced a decline in graduate students.
  • Just over half (54%) of humanities departments rated the quality of the career services available to their students as “good” or “very good.” Departments at research universities were the least likely to rate these services positively.
  • At every degree level, the departments tended to offer but not require participation in career-related activities.

Digital Engagement

  • Prior to the pandemic, 70% of humanities departments were not teaching a single online course.
  • While 27% of departments had a specialist in digital humanities, even smaller shares offered a seminar on digital methods or had guidelines for evaluating digital publications for tenure or promotion.

Public Engagement

  • Although a growing number of commenters point to the public humanities as a vehicle for elevating the profile of the field, 62% of departments indicated that such activity was “marginally important” or “not important” for tenure.
  • In approximately half of humanities departments, faculty members, staff, or students had served or collaborated with state humanities councils or community organizations. Less than a quarter of departments, however, had participated in community-service endeavors involving primary or secondary schools.

New Discipline Profiles

For those seeking information on specific disciplines, the HI also provides short summaries of the key findings for each of the disciplines included in the survey:

Direct to Full Text Report: The State of the Humanities In Four-Year Colleges and Universities (2017)
358 pages; PDF. 

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) 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 Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.