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Baby Steps

At this year’s conference in Orlando, I laid out a vision for ATHE that included serving the field by moving more decisively into the realm of data collection and analysis. If we are to fulfill our mission of supporting and advancing the study and practice of theatre and performance in higher education, we need to gain a greater understanding of the full shape and texture of our profession. How can we set goals, plan actions, and even know if we’re advancing our mission if we don’t know where we are as a field? If we don’t know the full measure of the challenges we’re facing?

Toward that end, the Governing Council has dedicated resources toward increasing ATHE’s capacity for data collection and analysis. It is the first, very preliminary results of that effort that I want to share with you in this article.

When I was elected President of ATHE, it struck me that I couldn’t even answer the most basic questions about the scope of theatre in higher education. How many degree-granting theatre programs are there? How many theatre degrees are granted in a year? How many faculty members are employed in theatre in higher education? Through analysis of the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we’re beginning to sketch the rough outlines. We’ve learned, for example, that in 2011-2012 (the last year for which full graduation data is available), 14,874 theatre degrees were granted by a total of 910 U.S. institutions. (Eventually, of course, we hope to track similar statistics for schools outside the US. Baby steps.)

IPEDS uses a variety of 6-digit "Classification of Instructional Programs” (CIP) Codes to identify theatre degrees. A breakdown of these codes with degrees awarded for 2011-2012 looks like this:

While there is a certain amount of specialization involved, it is clear that the majority of programs are classified as "generalist” programs. It may be easier to see this way:

The IPEDS data can also be broken out demographically. For example, here is the gender breakdown in degrees awarded:

The gender imbalance (61% female) seems striking, though it is not as large as one might think; during the same period women earned 58.1% of all post-secondary degrees, so while theatre and performance studies tilts slightly further in this direction, we are not that far off the national average.

This is the simplest, most basic kind of analysis. As we continue to mine existing data like this, we are also looking to supplement the government’s information with data we collect ourselves. For example, as a test project, I asked graduate assistant Zach Sudbury, a PhD student in theatre, to research the 910 schools that granted theatre degrees in 2011-2012 to determine which of these schools has a stand alone theatre or drama department, which has some form of "theatre and” program (e.g. theatre and dance, theatre and film, speech and theatre), and so on. Here’s what we discovered:

These, of course, are baby steps. The numbers we’ve been able to assemble are just that: numbers. We need to assemble a lot more of them and compare them over time before we can say with any authority what they mean. We expect to spend the next year (at least) building an infrastructure for how to collect and organize this kind of data. Meanwhile, we’ll be sharing these baby steps with you through ATHENews in the hopes that they might be of interest. Perhaps they might even get you thinking about the field in a way that you haven’t before.

And if not, then think about this: What data, if we could get it, would help us better accomplish our mission to support and advance the study and practice of theatre and performance in higher education? If you have some ideas about this, or suggestions on how we can best optimize our efforts at data collection and analysis, please feel free to share them with me at

-- Henry Bial, ATHE President

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