Humanities education quantified

While the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators has reported that the humanities are a large and growing presence in community colleges, there hasn’t been much data to fully capture the scale and character of humanities education.

A new study by the Humanities Indicators fills in those blanks. Working with the American Association of Community Colleges, college leaders and others, Humanities Indicators designed a survey to provide a comprehensive picture of the state of humanities education.

The survey found that 2.8 million community college students (about 40 percent) took a humanities course in fall 2015. Of those:

  • More than 1.7 million (about 25 percent) took at least one course in English.
  • Approximately 700,000 students (slightly more than 10 percent) took a history course.
  • About 300,000 students (4 percent) took courses in a language other than English.
  • Between 255,000 and 275,000 students (4 percent) took a philosophy course.
  • Between 400,000 and 450,000 students (6 percent) took a course in another humanities discipline or a survey course in the humanities.

During fall 2015, about 95 percent of community colleges offered one or more courses in English, about 90 percent offered a philosophy course and 75 percent offered a history course. Nearly two-thirds of community colleges offered a course in a language other than English, and slightly more than two-thirds offered a course in another humanities discipline or a general humanities course during that period.

A look at faculty

Approximately 70,000 faculty members taught at least one college-level course for credit at community colleges in fall 2015. More than half of them (about 37,000) taught English courses, and 21 percent taught history. More than 11,000 faculty taught courses in a language other than English, about 5,000 taught philosophy, and about 20,000 taught a general humanities course. Faculty teaching humanities courses represented approximately 20 percent of all community college faculty.

The student-faculty ratio for courses in the humanities was 40 to 1, compared to 20 to 1 overall at community colleges when courses in vocational non-humanities subjects are included. Philosophy courses appeared to have the highest student-faculty ratio, 50 to 1, among humanities disciplines.

Regional differences

Colleges in the South accounted for the largest share of students taking humanities courses. About 38 percent of students taking such courses at community colleges were in Southern colleges. That share is proportionate to the region’s share of community college enrollment, which is 35 percent.

Community colleges in the South were less likely to offer courses in languages other than English, while colleges in the West were more likely to do so, compared to their share of total enrollment.

While students in the West enrolled 33 percent of the nation’s community college students, they were home to only about 26 percent of humanities course-takers.

When it comes to history courses, students at Southern colleges were over-represented, compared to national statistics. Students at colleges in the Midwest were more like to take philosophy courses.

Colleges with a focus on career and technical education were less likely than other colleges to offer courses in language other than English.

Transfer institutions provided humanities education to a far larger number of students than other types of community colleges. Transfer colleges accounted for a disproportionately large share of students taking courses in foreign languages and history.

Dual enrollment

High school students dually enrolled in a community college accounted for 10 percent of humanities course-takers at community colleges, but the share varied widely by discipline. Between 270,000 and 294,100 high school students were enrolled in at least one humanities course at a community college in fall 2015.

High school students constituted more than 14 percent of the students enrolled in English, history and other language courses. Among students enrolled in philosophy and other humanities courses, less than 8 percent were high school students.

The number of high school students enrolled in a college course in English was estimated at 256,000 to 280,000, and about 200,000 high school students were enrolled in other humanities subjects. That suggests that high school students tend to take more than one community college course per term.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.