After WWII, the Feds started paying serious attention to the types of degrees college students completed. They had been compiling educational statistics since 1870, but Vance Grant explains (in the historical overview here) that increasingly detailed surveys of higher education were funded in response to the post-GI Bill boom. Currently, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports degrees conferred by field of study going back to 1949-50 in its Digest of Education Statistics. In 1966, the Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS) made major improvements in the granularity and scope of data collected. Institutions of higher education were asked to report degrees awarded under standardized numerical codes designating the field of study. (I have yet to determine the reporting mechanism for 1949-1966 surveys.) In reporting on degrees awarded in 1986-87, Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes replaced HEGIS as part the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS, here’s a history). This was a lengthy bureaucratic process rather than a wake-up-and-take-a-CIP kind of change, but for the sake of clarity let’s just stick with 1986 as the Dawn of CIP.
At that point, HEGIS codes 1501 English, General, and 1502, English Literature translated to CIP codes 23.0101 English Language and Literature, General and 23.0801, Literature, English (British and Commonwealth). HEGIS 605 Communications Media (Videotape, Film for Radio/TV) became CIP 10.0104 Radio & TV Prod & Brodcs and HEGIS 1010 Cinematography became 50.0602 Film-Video Making/Cinematography & Production. That’s it for “film.” Taxonomically, “Film Studies” did not exist. One might well ask, therefore, how, if at all, degrees in film studies were counted? (Turn to the timeline in the back of Inventing Film Studies to discover among the juicy factoids that in 1970 the AFI reported 68 institutions with a degree program “in film or a related field” including 11 with PhD programs.) In 1990, a CIP code was finally added for Film/Cinema Studies: 50.0601. In 2010, the name was revised slightly to Film/Cinema/Video Studies. By definition this is: “A program in the visual arts that focuses on the study of the history, development, theory, and criticism of the film/video arts, as well as the basic principles of film making and film production.”
2010 brought bigger changes for English: a new series of 23.14 codes for Literature. 23.0101 abides, but a degree specifically in British and Commonwealth literature could now be numbered 23.1404; by definition: “A program that focuses on the literatures and literary developments of the English-speaking peoples of the British Isles and the British Commonwealth, from the origins of the English language to the present. Includes instruction in period and genre studies, author studies, country and regional specializations, literary criticism, and the study of folkloric traditions.”
I am sure you have already intuited the genius of CIP. It is so obvious! One simply lops off digits to arrive at higher levels of statistical abstraction. Thus the four distinct series under 23 English Languages and Literature/Letters (23.01 English Language and Literature, General; 23.13 Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies; 23.14 Literature; 23.99 English Language and Literature/Letters, Other) can easily be collapsed into the area code for English: 23. One can perform the same trick with the six different varieties of 23.14 Literature (23.1401 General; 23.1402 American (US); 23.1403 American (Canadian); 23.1404 Brittish; 23.1405 Children’s and Adolescent ; 23.1499 Other). This allows institutions to track degrees at the level of granularity meaningful to them, while facilitating the kind of aggregation that makes results meaningful to those thinking about trends across the higher ed sector. When the Digest of Education Statistics compares degrees granted over time in various disciplinary areas, in considers the top level (two digit) CIP code by default. Degrees in Literature (whatever sort) will show up along with Rhetoric and Composition under 23 English Languages and Literature/Letters. Degrees in Film/Cinema/Video Studies will show up with degrees in studio art, music, “arts, entertainment, and media management” and so on under CIP 50 Visual and Performing Arts.
I find a number of points of interest in this. Although it seems almost too obvious to state, English takes up a lot of real estate on this list. 54 History, by comparison, only contains one series with 9 parts. The level of granularity makes no difference to the aggregate totals (it shouldn’t), but it seems to point to something about disciplinary structure. What generates the need to distinguish so many flavors of English? History also has “general” and “other” categories, for example, but English seems to need them at the 23.14## level as well as the 23.## level. Why 23.1499 English, Literature, Other as distinct from 23.99 English Language and Literature/Letters, Other? Their definitions differ by a single word. 23.1499: “Any instructional program in English language literature not listed above.” 23.99: “Any instructional program in English language and literature not listed above.” Does this result from taxonomic logic merely or are there really hyper-specialized degrees out there that require this distinction? Is it an attempt to capture approaches at different types of institutions (Research 1s and Community Colleges,e.g.) and/or levels (PhDs and AAs)? Inquiring minds want to know.
Another kinda obvious point: while “English” and “History” designate both disciplines and commonly encountered administrative divisions (departments), the same cannot be said for 50 Visual and Performing Arts. At my institution, for example, the degrees encompassed within this category are spread out not only across different departments but also across different colleges: 50.09 Music has a Dean; while 50.06 Film/Video and Photographic Arts does not designate a coherent institutional entity at all. Precisely because the point of CIP taxonomy is to report degrees and not departments, we can see a much closer fit between institutional organization and taxonomic organization in the case of History and English than with Visual and Performing Arts. With respect to the latter, there is a striking disjuncture between the discourse that reports on the credentials higher education confers, on the one hand, and the institutional organization producing those credentials, on the other. At the level of aggregated data about “Visual and Performing Arts,” the institutional arrangements that credential students disappear entirely in favor of a new unity produced by the taxonomic scheme. 23 English is also an unity generated by the taxonomy, but looking at the series it comprises, one can imagine actually existing departments.
Curiously (kinda obvious point number three), the term “humanities” organizes practically nothing in this schema. CIP code 24 Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities is clearly meant as a designator for generalist degrees and not as rubric encompassing disparate disciplines. In contrast, CIP 45 Social Sciences has under it Anthropology, Archeology, Criminology, Economics, etc. NCES does sometimes combine CIP codes to report trends in the “humanities,” but that requires an explanation of what gets lumped (see below). Reporting about “Social Science” does not–although History does get combined with Social Science in the same tables that report on the humanities. Is the “crisis of the humanities” partially, or maybe even primarily, taxonomic?
James English partly addresses this question in The Global Future of English Studies. As his title suggests, English is specifically concerned with the discipline of English. He makes good use of the NCES data to deflate the rhetoric of “crisis” often employed by English professors who want their departments not to change, to change dramatically, or to receive more funding. “Though the specific position of English is subject to shifts on the wider academic landscape,” English writes, “the discipline appears, according to various reasonable metrics, to be firmly embedded in the terrrain” (8). It is true that the percentage of graduates with degrees in English in 2008 (3.5%) was roughly half of its post-war peak in 1971 (7.6%). But, he argues, there are number of systemic factors at work here, such as the fact that the increasing diversity of degree programs available has tended to decrease the individual market share of each of them. Once this is taken into account,
English has held its own, remaining one of the largest non-vocational degree programs as well as the largest by far in the humanities. Nor are the humanities eroding away, as many of us believe them to be . . . As a sector, the humanities has been the clear winner in the enrollments chase over the last 20-25 years, outperforming all other sectors . . . including business. In short, considered strictly in terms of US higher education enrollments over the past quarter century, English is the dominant field in the fastest rising sector (16-17)
English illustrates with a chart (Figure 1.4. Percent change in share of undergraduate degrees granted, United States, 1983-2008). This has the humanities increasing by a whopping 28% at the left edge and Computer Science and Engineering declining by more than 30% on the right edge (worry about your bridges!). The source for this is Table 274 from the 2009 Digest. That table explains that “humanities”
includes degrees in Area, ethnic, cultural, and gender studies; English language and literature/letters; Foreign languages, literatures, and linguistics; Liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities; Multi/interdisciplinary studies; Philosophy and religious studies; Theology and religious vocations; and Visual and performing arts.
This aggregation includes within the humanities some fields perhaps not typically imagined there–those disciplines that might be encompassed by the “arts” part of “arts and humanities” as well as degrees like 50.1001 Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management and 50.0912 Music Pedagogy. The numbers would have to be re-aggregated and crunched to see what difference, if any, the inclusion of particular degrees makes to the overall trend, but differently tabulated data from the 2011 Digest does shed some light on the matter. If we take the same period English considers (1983-2008) and look at the change in the number of BA’s awarded, those in the Visual and Performing Arts more than doubled (220% increase) while those in English did not quite double (176% increase). Moreover, the absolute numbers are much higher in Visual and Performing Arts. In 2008, for example, BAs there totaled 87,703 as compared to 55,038 in English. As James English points out, what matters to the “health of the humanities” overall is the proportion of these increases relative to the overall growth in the number of BAs. But differently aggregated data does cast new light on his assertion that “English is the dominant field in the fastest rising sector.” The dominance of English seems evident if the point of comparison is any one of the numerous disciplines comprised in the humanities as NCES defines it. But its presence does not loom so large within the aggregation that includes Foreign languages (20,977 BAs in 2008–a 188% increase over 1983), Visual and performing arts, and all the rest. Moreover, it is not itself the fastest rising component of the fastest rising sector. The 2011 Digest doesn’t let me say conclusively which two digit CIP wins that honor; it only breaks out Visual and performing arts; English; and Foreign languages, literatures, and linguistics. Of those, “Visual and performing arts” wins. But then again CIP 50 contains a disciplinary hodge-podge, some of which are arguably not “the humanities.”
James English is able to make the kind of argument he makes about English not so much because of its numerical strength but because of its institutional power, because, among other advantages, of the very good fit between the taxonomy that measures it and the departmental structures that sustain it. This is implied by his argument and worth underscoring. That fit does not exist for those fields whose faculty and curricula may overlap with English but also have disciplinary autonomy, e.g,: 30.2601 Culture Studies/Critical Theory and Analysis, added in 2010 to CIP 30 Multi/Interdisciplinary studies (along with Mathematics and Computer Science, Gerontology, and Historic Preservation and Conservation); and 05.0201 African-American/Black Studies, part of 05 Area, Ethnic, Culture, Gender, and Group Studies (along with German Studies and Tibetan Studies); and of course 50.0601 Film/Cinema/Video Studies.
James English makes some astonishing claims about degrees in these fields.
While they are not English majors, their intellectual formation is being guided more directly by English than by any other discipline, and to this extent they remain under the curricular umbrella of English studies. The numbers at issue are not large: about 7,500 students graduated from American universities with degrees in the relevant subfields of ‘Area, Ethnic, Cultural, or Gender Studies’ in 2008 and another in “Film/Cinema Studies” subfield within visual and performing arts. But these figures are rising rapidly, having increased more than 25% over the last decade. They might be regarded as representing a small but nontrivial ‘hidden’ fraction of English degree students. (21)
If we start from the contrary assumption that “cinema studies, ethnic studies, women’s studies, culture studies, African American studies, and Asian American studies” exist because scholars and students weren’t satisfied with the guidance they were getting under the English umbrella, it’s less easy to deny their disciplinary identity. (50.0601 definitely thinks it is a discipline and not a wayward child of 23.0101; I’m just sayin’.) Moreover, if we look at the CIP’s within Area, Ethnic, Culture, or Gender Studies, we discover that James English’s overhasty generalization may lump together very different types of programs (African-American Studies likely has a joint appointment in the English Department, German Studies may not). Because I like English’s book overall, I don’t want to brand him a typically imperialist English professor. Can we just stipulate that the small but rapidly rising numbers are probably not best understood as “hidden” English majors? Unless, of course, they get aggregated in that way, through the two-step that turns them into “humanities” majors and then establishes English as the dominant discipline in that sector.
It’s more interesting, I think, to play with the granularity that IPEDS affords, which anyone can do with the handy dandy report generator here.
In 2010-11, your institution awarded the following numbers of “1st major” BAs, out of a total of 6,511:
- 92 (1%) Ethnic, Cultural Minority, and Gender Studies (50.02, not the higher level that includes the Germans)
- 139 (2%) History
- 196 (3%) English Language and Literature, General
- 283 (4%) Visual and preforming arts of which 20 (less than 1%) were in 50.06 Film/Video and Photographic Arts (which includes production and studies)
At my institution, the numbers were, out of 4,462:
- 9 (less than 1%) in Ethnic, Cultural Minority, and Gender Studies (demonstrating that California and South Carolina are, in fact, different)
- 107 (2%) History
- 98 (2%) English Language and Literature, General
- 220 (5%) Visual and performing arts of which 68 (1%) were in 50.06
Do these numbers describe the campus you inhabit? Mine make sense to me but they do provide a new perspective. History and English, which seem ginormous on the ground, don’t look that way in this comparative view. Visual and performing arts, which does not seem to be a coherent area at all on my campus, looks like a major one in the numbers. Some of the degrees there to do not look like “the humanities” to me, but a great many of them do. This suggests that a major thread of development in the humanities may already be precisely where we think it should be: in engagement with the full range of culture industries.
The bottom line: it is a good thing we’ve been paying our taxes because IPEDS will help us describe the humanities differently (and let’s hope the Department of Education stays in business). But it will be necessary to dive into the data, rather than rely on the Digest exclusively, and we have to figure out how disciplines like film were counted before they were counted, which may mean research at particular institutions.