Big Slide for the History BA?

I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students earning bachelor’s degrees in history went down again. The latest data covers the academic year ending in 2014, so many teachers and administrators have already noticed fewer history majors in their departments. The downward trend is in its third year, so an uptick would have been a pleasant surprise and the downturn is no surprise at all.

But the magnitude of the decline is a shock. If the numbers are right and if I’ve run them correctly, history departments graduated roughly 3,400 fewer students in AY 2013-14 than in the previous year. That’s a 9 percent decline, and it’s surprising because no year-over-year change in the last 15 years—up or down—has come close to being this large. And if we look at the number of history undergrad degrees as a percentage of all bachelors degrees, we see a slide that started in 2007 and has continued into 2014–a year in which history majors claimed only 1.73 percent of all bachelor’s degrees.

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History PhDs and Their Plans: An Unhappy Milestone in the SED Report

Update: I’ve added the 2014 survey data, released in December 2015, to the visualizations below. The post covering this data is here.

Is it bad luck to start a new blog with bad news? Looks like we will find out. As has been noted elsewhere, new data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates is not encouraging. For humanities PhDs,  it contains a grim milestone. A multiyear trend, which saw the proportion of humanities graduates who had definite employment falling and the proportion of job seekers rising, has come to this: In academic year 2012-13 there were more job seekers than those with definite employment.

Humanities being a broad category,  I wanted to see how well historians fared (I’m ABD in history but not headed toward an academic job). The chart below tells the story.

(Use filters on the side to compare humanities fields. More charts below or in the full post.)

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Source: Survey of Earned Doctorates. Percentages based on total responses.

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