- About 2.8 million community college students took one or more humanities courses in the fall of 2015, according to a new report by Humanities Indicators.
- More than 1.7 million of those students took an English course, about 700,000 took a history course and as many as 275,000 took a philosophy course. In all, about 40% of community college students took a humanities course in 2015.
- Nearly half (47%) of the community college population enrolled at a transfer institution, compared to 12% of students who enrolled in a career or technical school. About 1.3 million students at transfer institutions, or about 41%, took a humanities course.
Community colleges have seen massive growth in their humanities programs over the past few decades. Between 1987 and 2015, the number of liberal arts associate degrees awarded by community colleges more than tripled, from about 113,300 to 363,500, according to a previous study by the Humanities Indicators.
The number of minority students pursuing humanities degrees at community colleges is also increasing, according to a separate Humanities Indicators report. About one-third (32%) of associate degrees in the humanities were awarded to black, Hispanic or Native American students in 2015, up from about 13% in 1989, the first year data was available. More minority students have been receiving associate degrees in the health and science and workforce-oriented fields as well.
Not much is known about where students who earn their associate degrees in the humanities end up, Inside Higher Ed reported. But with their strong numbers in community colleges, momentum is growing around creating better pathways through which those students can transfer to a four-year college to continue their studies. Yet few students go that route.
Although most (81%) of incoming community college students plan to enroll at a bachelor's institution, only one-third do so within six years, according to data cited by the Brookings Institution. When they do transfer, they tend to fare as well as or better than students who enrolled in a four-year college straight from high school or who transferred from another four-year institution, according to a recent report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
Even so, only about 5% of incoming students at elite institutions are transfer students, compared to 21% of students at less competitive colleges.
To fix this so-called "leaky pipeline," particularly among liberal arts students, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is awarding grants to promote partnerships between two- and four-year colleges and to create more opportunities for community college students to attend high-quality bachelor's institutions.
Through one of those partnerships, the foundation has given about $1.7 million as of early 2017 to Johns Hopkins University and the Community College of Baltimore County to improve humanities courses, "strengthen faculty connections" between the two schools, and increase retention, graduation and transfer rates.
The Mellon Foundation has also used a $2 million grant to support the Cleveland Humanities Collaborative, which helps students from three Ohio community colleges transfer to Case Western Reserve University. The initiative advises and mentors students interested in earning a liberal arts degree, introduces them to Case Western's community and provides stipends to them that help lower the cost of college.
There are similar efforts underway in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York City, among other cites and states.