Update on Changes to US Census Question


You may recall that this past December, Kathleen Wallace (Hofstra) brought to our attention that the U.S. Census Bureau was considering eliminating from its main survey the question asking for respondents’ field of undergraduate study. In light of many comments sent to the Bureau about this proposal, it has been rejected; the question will be retained. From the Federal Register, it is clear that a main motivating force for this was the encouragement of the study of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, though philosophy does rate a mention:

Regarding the field of degree question, the Census Bureau received 625 comments from researchers, professors and administrators at many universities, professional associations that represent science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers and industries, members of Congress, the National Science Foundation, and many individuals interested in retaining this question. A number of commenters (92) cited the importance of these estimates for research that analyzes the effect of field of degree choice on economic outcomes, including earnings, education, occupation, industry, and employment. University administrators (37) commented that this information allows for analysis of postsecondary outcomes, and allows them to benchmark their graduates’ relative success in different fields as well as to plan degree offerings. While some commenters used the estimates to understand fields such as humanities or philosophy (56), the majority of these comments (125) addressed the value of knowing about the outcomes of people who pursued degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These commenters felt that knowing more about the people currently earning STEM degrees and the people currently working in STEM fields would enable universities, advocacy groups, and policy makers to encourage more people to pursue STEM careers, and to encourage diversity within STEM careers.

There is no word so far on whether the question will be reworded so that “philosophy” is its own answer, and not bundled together with religious studies, as it has been in the past.

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