Quick Study: May 19, 2022
Jo Reed: Welcome to “Quick Study,” the monthly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts. This is where we’ll show stats and stories to help us better understand the value of art in everyday life. I’m Josephine Reed; I’m here with Sunil Iyengar. He’s the Director of Research & Analysis here at the Arts Endowment. Hello, Sunil.
Sunil Iyengar: Hi, Jo.
Jo Reed: So what’s on the docket today?
Sunil Iyengar: It’s graduation time and a lot of commencement ceremonies going on, so I thought today we could look at some new data on arts degree holders in higher education.
Jo Reed: Oh, that’s a good idea. So what are we looking at?
Sunil Iyengar: The background for this is a new report on the state of humanities in graduate education in the workforce. It was put out by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences using survey data from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education to track the volume and careers of humanities degree holders. The humanities, as they define it, cover about seven distinct disciplines.
Jo Reed: So I’m assuming the arts are included in the humanities here?
Sunil Iyengar: Actually, the study of the arts is included in the humanities, but not the arts themselves. So when we talk about the study of the arts we mean things like music theory and composition, art and theater history, film study. So they do throw in playwriting, as well as creative writing.
Jo Reed: Okay. And what did the report find?
Sunil Iyengar: Well, for the humanities, a key finding was that in 2020, the most recent year of data, the share of master’s degrees in the humanities fell by 18.5 percent from its peak in 2012. This continues a long-term trend of slow decline of humanities degrees as a share of all degrees conferred since roughly 2000, and we’re talking both master’s degrees, as well as doctoral. But what’s notable for us, Jo, is, you know, I mentioned the study of the arts is something that’s part of the humanities.
Jo Reed: Yes.
Sunil Iyengar: Well, for those disciplines, while accounting for fewer master’s degrees than most other humanities disciplines, those disciplines were exempt from the larger pattern of decline. In fact, the number of master’s degrees awarded for the study of the arts actually grew by seven percent from 2012 to 2020. So what’s notable for us, Jo, is that the discipline called the study of the arts that I referred to, while that accounts for fewer master’s degrees than most other humanities disciplines, it was actually exempt from the larger pattern of decline that beset the humanities. So the number of master’s degrees awarded for the study of the arts grew by seven percent from 2012 to 2020.
Jo Reed: What about the all-important job market for those graduate degree holders?
Sunil Iyengar: Good news and not so good news. So I mentioned earlier we’ve been talking about the study of the arts as part of the humanities. Well, if you turn into the-- if you turn and look at the arts themselves, arts graduate students as distinct from humanities students, you see that only 54 percent of master’s degree holders in the arts, once they found jobs, said they saw a close relationship between their job and degree. This is roughly the same for humanities master’s graduates, but the share’s lower than for all other types of master’s degree holders except for MBAs, where 52 percent said they saw a relationship between the job they have now and they degree they earned.
Jo Reed: And the good news?
Sunil Iyengar: <laughs> Yeah. So I was looking for some good news, and among PhD graduates in the arts, you actually see the reverse. A whopping 87 percent said they saw a close relationship between their degree and the work they do now, and get this. That’s higher than for humanities PhDs and for all other disciplines, with the exception of doctoral degree holders in the health and medical sciences. It must be that the art students who go all the way to pursue a PhD are pretty darn sure of what they want to do in life.
Jo Reed: And I would also think there would be jobs in their fields.
Sunil Iyengar: Well, the share of arts or humanities PhD holders who said they had a definite job commitment upon graduation has been shrinking over several years now. Also on the wane is the share of arts and humanities PhDs who’ve been entering the academic job market. For example, the share of those PhD holders who had a commitment to take an academic job after graduating fell by 15 percent from 2008 to 2020. However, on the bright side, the share entering the nonprofit sector grew by six percentage points.
Jo Reed: So what about other indicators? Do we have any idea if these actually are career choices that the graduates are pleased with?
Sunil Iyengar: <laughs> You’re asking all the right questions, <laughs> Jo. At the end of the day, master’s degree holders in the arts earned a median income of $50,000, while for doctoral holders in the arts, the median income was $80,000, so that’s not much of a range there. When it comes to job satisfaction, about 50 percent of arts PhDs reported being quote “very satisfied” while 41 percent said they were somewhat satisfied, so that’s pretty good. Those numbers were about 44 percent each for master’s degree holders in the arts. That’s MFA program graduates, for example, who said they were either very satisfied with their job or somewhat satisfied with their job.
Jo Reed: Well, that’s useful information to have, actually.
Sunil Iyengar: Well, it’s something to consider for those contemplating further art study after graduation.
Jo Reed: Yeah, it sure is. Well, thanks, Sunil, and I’ll talk to you next month.
Sunil Iyengar: Yes, we’ll talk then. Thanks, Jo.
Jo Reed: Oh, sure. That was Sunil Iyengar. He’s the Director of Research & Analysis here at the National Endowment for the Arts. You’ve been listening to “Quick Study.” The music is “We Are One” from Scott Holmes Music. It’s licensed through Creative Commons. Until next month, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.
In this episode, we consider statistics about arts and humanities graduates and their career prospects, based on a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.