I’ve seen a lot of talk lately about the ongoing “crisis in the humanities.” It may be that there is such a thing, for after all, there are lots of different ways to define a crisis. But it’s worth noting that if one uses the working definition that seems to be most common — declining undergraduate enrollments — the humanities turn out not to be in crisis at all.
If you click here (the National Center for Education Statistics’s “Digest of Education Statistics”), you’ll see Table 289, which shows degrees granted by field of study for selected years between 1970 and 2010. Cutting to the chase, that table reveals that in 1970-1971, 17.1% of students who received BAs studied in a humanities discipline. Three decades later, in the midst of the crisis in the humanities, that number had plummeted to 17%.
It’s worth adding that, based on these statistics at least, there is a crisis in education (from 21% to 6%) and perhaps the natural sciences (from 9.8% to 7.6%), and also that the number of students receiving MAs and PhDs in humanities disciplines has contracted (from 14.6% to 7.9% for MAs and from 6.8% to 4.9% for PhDs). All of which is to say that there may be a crisis in the humanities, but it appears to be largely a crisis of confidence.