Recent Cuts to Federal Humanities Funding are Wide-Reaching

The Humanities Indicators recently released a new analysis of federal support for the humanities: this is funding that goes to the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as programs at various other agencies, including many Smithsonian Institution museums, the Department of Education, the National Park Service, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Together, the funding supports scholars and teachers, museums, cultural institutions, public programs and preservation activities.

When compared to levels for humanities funding in 2008, funding in 2015 has dropped from $1.3 billion to $1.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.  This amounts to a 7.7% decrease since 2008, which at first glance, does not appear a drastic reduction over a period known for the Great Recession, sequestration, and bitter budget debates.

Nonetheless, when we zoom in further, we see that almost every federal funding line for the humanities has decreased far more than 7.7%. More specifically, it is the grant programs that spread federal dollars to scholars, students, and humanities programs around the countries that have suffered disproportionately.  Since the start of the budget disruptions of the Great Recession, the deepest cuts occurred in the Department of Education, with the termination of the Teaching American History Program, the effective termination (through merger) of the Javits Fellowship Program (the only federal program supporting graduate education in the humanities), as well as deep cuts in budget lines supporting foreign language, area, and other international studies. History and historic preservation programs supported under the National Park Service also took substantial cuts from 2008 to 2015, with a 19% decrease.

The budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities lost 8.8% in inflation-adjusted value from 2008 to 2015, falling from $162.0 million to $147.8 million. (The high watermark for recent funding occurred in 2010, when the agency received an appropriation of $184 million, calculated in inflation adjusted dollars.)

The Library of Congress experienced a 4% decrease in funding from $426 million in 2008 to $410 million in 2015, but the humanities-focused Kluge center, which supports humanities scholars, experienced a 10% reduction, to $8.1 million.

The National Historical Publication and Records Commission, which offers small grants for preservation and publication of documentary sources, saw its funding slashed from $10.64 million to $5 million, a 56.4% reduction.

That humanities funding as a whole has only decreased by 7.7% is largely because the budget for the Museum of African American History and Culture expanded from $5.2 million to $41.15 million. While a promising development, this increase was largely due to final development and construction costs for the museum (which is scheduled to open in 2016). While this may be a welcome expenditure for the humanities community, it is only a short term funding burst as expenditures for on-going programs have been seriously depleted. Another institution that has fared well is the School of Language Studies within the Foreign Service Institute, which serves the country’s diplomatic officers specifically. Its budget climbed to $136.03 million from $56.62, a 140% increase. Again, this is a welcome development and bolsters national diplomacy, but it should not obscure the nearly uniform decreases in grant lines for other humanities work taking place around the country.

Congress passed a budget bill in October that raised the spending caps a small amount and is now at work to appropriate funds for FY 2016. The appropriations process over the next weeks will show whether humanities funding can regain some of the ground it lost over the past seven years.  



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