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Humanities Degrees Are Up for Minority Students at Community Colleges

While undergraduate enrollment in humanities programs continues to decline in four-year colleges, more African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American students are completing associate degrees in humanities fields than ever before.

Inside Higher Ed reports that, last year, 32.1% of community-college degrees in the humanities were awarded to students from “traditionally unrepresented” racial and ethnic groups. This is a 149% increase since 1989, when this type of data was first collected. Additionally, more minority students received associate degrees in humanities programs than in any other field, including vocational fields, health and medicine, and the natural sciences.

This information was released last week as part of a report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Robert Townsend, the director of the academy’s Washington office, noted that “[t]his presents an opportunity for humanities departments,” since these findings show that, in general, “these students have had a good encounter with humanities on the community college level.” As Townsend also points out, however, it remains to be seen how this humanities work fits in with students’ ongoing academic and professional development. It is possible that these students are simply “getting their general-education requirements out of the way at the associate level and moving to another field for the bachelor’s degree.”

Townsend and Mariet Westernann, the executive vice president of the Mellon Foundation, agree that this presents both a challenge and an opportunity for humanities programs at four-year colleges and universities. The goal, they argue, is to motivate students to continue pursuing education in the humanities once they have completed their associate degree. Westerman suggests four-year institutions should begin by building stronger relationships with community colleges, in order to allow more students to transfer credits and use them toward completing humanities majors.

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