Data about enrollment in psychology courses come from a number of sources, including the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the United States and other nations.
Undergraduate Enrollment in Psychology
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that there were 1.7 million bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2009-2010. According to NCES, more than half of these degrees were conferred in five fields of study including:
Business, management, marketing, and personal and culinary services (22 percent).
Social sciences and history (10 percent).
Health professions and related programs (8 percent).
Education (6 percent).
Psychology (6 percent).
See figure 38-1 on the NCES website. In 2009-2010, NCES reports that 97,200 bachelor's degrees in psychology were awarded.
Data for students attending community colleges are less clear. Frequently, students who wish to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology select an associate’s degree program that allows for efficient transfer to a college or university. This generally precludes a major in psychology at a community college level. Therefore, it is difficult to identify the number of students who attend community colleges for the express purpose of majoring in psychology. But, NCES reports that during a 10-year period (from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010), "the field of psychology experienced the largest percent increase in the number of associate's degrees awarded over this time period (352 percent, from 1,500 to 6,600 degrees)."
Jane S. Halonen, PhD, examines the popularity, utility and rigor of the psychology major in her white paper, "Are There Too Many Psychology Majors?" (PDF, 696KB).
High School Psychology
With respect to the number of students who take psychology in high school, there are data reporting the number of students who take the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) psychology exams. In 2011, nearly 198,000 students took the Advanced Placement psychology exam (College Board, 2011). Considering that just fewer than 4,000 students took the AP Psychology exam in 1992 (the first year the exam was given), this demonstrates an astonishing growth in the popularity of the subject. In 2011, AP Psychology ranked as the 6th largest exam volume out of 33 AP subject exams, and nearly 4,500 schools were authorized to include the AP designation for their psychology courses.
Additionally, in the spring of 2011, over 16,000 International Baccalaureate Psychology exams were taken worldwide, with nearly 10,000 exams taken in the United States (M. Wilson, Global Management Information Associate Manager at the International Baccalaureate Organization, personal communication, June 16, 2011). In the spring of 2011, IB psychology ranked 8th out of approximately 26 IB subject exams in the US, in terms of exam volume, and 12th worldwide.
In addition to students enrolled in AP and IB psychology, a general psychology course is also available at many schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, the most recent year of available data, nearly 30% of graduating students earned credits in a psychology course during their four years in high school (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). If over 3,000,000 students graduated from high school in 2009 and 30% of these graduates took a psychology course, close to 1,000,000 students graduated in 2009 having taken psychology in high school. These numbers were supported by recent data from the College Board that indicated that 27% of all graduating high school students in 2010 who took the SAT took psychology during high school (College Board Research & Development, 2011).
College Board. (2011). AP program participation and performance statistics [AP Data 2011].
College Board Research & Development (2011). College-bound seniors 2010: Recent high school graduates who took psychology during high school, by course type. New York: Author.
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2009). America's high school graduates: Results from the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript Study.
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