Liberal Arts Programs Lead Completions, Preliminary IPEDS Data Show

November 2, 2017

Who says the liberal arts are dead? Liberal arts programs from the IPEDS-CIP (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Classification of Instruction Programs) taxonomy ranked number one for most completions and for biggest increase in completions in 2016, according to an analysis of IPEDS preliminary data conducted by Gray Associates, a higher education consulting firm.

The associate degree Liberal Arts and Sciences led all 1,400+ IPEDS-CIP programs with 251,393 completions in 2016. In addition, postbaccalaureate certificates in Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities rose by 56 percent in 2016, the largest increase, according to the data.

Top 10 IPEDS Programs
Source: Gray analysis of IPEDS 2016 Completions,

“Given the trend toward growing emphasis on career education and STEM, the liberal arts resurgence is surprising, “ said Gray Associates Founder and Chief Executive Officer Robert Atkins. “Apparently a growing number of students recognize that a liberal arts degree can lead to a rewarding career, although not necessarily in their field of study.” Mr. Atkins reported the findings during Gray’s October 26 webcast on demand trends in higher education.

Crosswalk analyses that match CIPs to Standard Occupational Codes (SOC) often miss many of the occupations where people holding liberal arts degrees find employment, Mr. Atkins pointed out. For example, an analysis Gray conducted of two million U.S. Census records found that history majors held jobs in more than 400 job titles, whereas the CIP to SOC crosswalk developed by the National Center for Education Statistics lists only four.

Findings such as these are critical to higher education leaders who are charged with making decisions about which programs to Start, Stop, Sustain, or Grow, he explained. “An institution relying on a standard crosswalk analysis might think the job prospects for a particular major are limited when, actually, they are very robust,” Mr. Atkins said. Gray’s Program Evaluation System, which institutions across the country use to manage their academic program portfolio, incorporates advanced analytic techniques to yield insight that standard approaches might not offer.

The fastest-growing programs, ranked by percentage increase in completions, represented a variety of disciplines.

Fastest-Growing IPEDS Programs
Source: Gray analysis of IPEDS 2016 Completions,

The full report can be viewed here:

About Gray Associates

Gray Associates, Inc. is a higher education consulting firm.  We help clients develop fact-based institutional and marketing strategies to maximize outcomes for students, the school, and its constituencies.  Gray uses proprietary analytical techniques and an industry-leading database combining information on inquiry volumes, demographics, competition, and employment, to help faculty and school leadership develop institutional strategies, select programs, pick locations, and prepare curricula.

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Gray Associates

Gray Associates, Inc. provides the best available data, software, and facilitated processes to help higher education institutions make high-stakes decisions regarding academic programs, pricing, and locations.

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