Humanities Funding Still in Recovery from Recession

(June 19, 2014)

Total funding for humanities research, education, and programs in the U.S. still below pre-recession levels, according to a new report released today by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

The report, The State of the Humanities: Funding 2014, gathers data on the array of funding sources, large and small, that underwrite the humanities, revealing that federal, state, and private support to the humanities are still recovering from the recession.

Federal Support

In the area of federal funding, the report’s authors estimate that federal support for humanities-focused programs fell from $855 million in 2008 to $594 million in 2014, adjusting for inflation. The decrease reflects the elimination of the Department of Education’s Teaching American History Program and Javits Fellowship Program—the only federal program supporting graduate education in the humanities—and deep cuts in DOE’s budget for foreign language, area, and other international studies. It also takes into account the suspension of title VIII funds for Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies at the Department of State, and other cutbacks at the National Park Service, the National Archives & Records Administration, and the Library of Congress. 


The decrease in federal support also encompasses funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the principal federal agency supporting projects in the humanities. Following sharp declines in the 1980s and in 1995, appropriations for NEH have remained relatively flat. After a slight surge in 2010, NEH funds have fallen again in recent years due to inflation and cuts in appropriations, with a current funding level of $146 million.

State Funding

At the state level, thirty-nine states reduced their appropriations to art agencies that underwrite many humanities-related activities from 2007 to 2013. Meanwhile, the median state investment in higher education dropped from $276 per capita in 2008 to $237 per capita in 2013, according to the report. Forty-six states reduced support for higher education, with four states cutting allocations by a third or more over the five-year span. The state median was a 17.2% reduction. Among the most striking indicators of state disinvestment in higher education is that tuition recently surpassed state appropriations as the primary source of funding for public colleges and universities. 

Private Support

The report also showed that declining government funding for the humanities has been accompanied by flagging support from private sources. Charitable giving, hard-hit by the recession, fell 21 percent (to $13.1 million) after 2007 and has recovered slowly, rising to $14.4 billion in 2012. And the share of private giving to arts, culture, and humanities organizations, which grew steadily from 1985 to the late 1990s, then plateaued at around 4.5 percent of total giving. Foundation funding for the humanities—a substantial source of support for humanities activities in the United States—has also contracted. Preliminary data show that foundation funding for the humanities has fallen 18 percent from its 2007 high of $508 million to $416 million in 2012, and currently represents approximately 1.8 percent of all foundation giving.

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences The State of the Humanities: Funding 2014 report draws on data from the organization’s newly re-launched Humanities Indicators site, which compiles, analyzes and publishes comprehensive trend data about the humanities, covering primary and secondary education in the humanities, undergraduate and graduate education, the humanities workforce, humanities funding and research, and the humanities in American life. The redesigned is also accompanied by a Data Forum of online commentary by experts on trends and data presented in the Indicators project.

“Over the past five years, the Humanities Indicators Project has helped to change the conversation about the humanities disciplines, from one based in anecdote to one based in data and fact,” said Don Randel, Chairman of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Board of Directors. “This change has been immensely helpful to scholars and policymakers. The new website, publication, and online forum are necessary next steps in the evolution of the project, as we now try to engage a broader public in matters of vital importance to our nation.”

These three new resources follow the release last year of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences The Heart of the Matter report, which makes the case that investment in the humanities and social sciences is critical to achieving the United States’ economic, social, and diplomatic goals.

The Humanities Indicator project is supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  

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