Number -Type of TPC Degree Programs

Moving across states interrupted what I thought would be weekly posts of excerpts from my book manuscript: Programmatic imaginations: A curricular history of technical and professional communication. 

I begin with an overview of why CIP codes are important and then walk through a field wide view of current degree totals and growth from the start of this project.

<begin excerpt>

I pause here to note the importance of Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes for classifying and counting completed degree programs in the US. CIP codes are an important classification because they represent the national standard for counting degrees awarded and thus, students served. The push to create CIP codes for writing outside of the generic English category owes much to the work of Louise Wetherbee Phelps and the “visibility project”.[1] Phelps was clear and careful to maintain TPC as separate but related category to rhetoric and composition, even though she uses the term “subfield.” “Rather than branching off from Rhetoric and Composition, this specialization has a semi-autonomous status and independent history that converged with the development of Rhetoric and Composition” (Phelps, YEAR, p. 4). This code provides a location for programs in relation to both national education statistics and for local institutional data. TPC does have a CIP code that should be used for degree programs: 23.1303 for all instructional programs in Professional, Technical, Business, and Scientific Writing. Thus, it was not until ca. 2010 that institutions could even report those who graduated with degrees in TPC under a TPC specific CIP code. Even now, institutions can report degrees under 23.1303 or other generic writing CIP codes or the English CIP codes. Thus, the number of degrees reported under the 23.1303 is likely much lower than the number of actual degrees awarded.[2] Understanding how TPC programs align within institutional priorities gives faculty the opportunity to leverage those infrastructures or create new ways to fully support the knowledge making and community building work that is essential for students to learn. Moreover, the counting of certificates and minors is even murkier.

The total number of TPC degree programs in the data set is 712.

Figure 3.4: Total number of TPC degrees from 1976-2023

The first five dates in Figure 3.4 correspond to when the data was published in the literature and then the latter three dates (2013, 2018, 2023) are when I gathered and compiled data.

As I noted in Chapter 2, the gathering of data centered on degree programs. I also want to define the types of degree programs to ensure a common foundation.

  • A master’s degree is a post-baccalaureate degree program usually completed in two years. The degree includes a major field of study. Refer to Chapter 7 for more details about the specifics of these degrees.
  • A bachelor’s degree is a four-year plan of study that includes a general education core (typically) and then focused courses in the student’s major. A major is a field of study that has an approved curriculum. This curriculum is usually faculty driven and it aligns with accreditation standards or disciplinary knowledge. The bachelor’s degree is usually a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS). Refer to Chapter 4 for more details about the specifics of these degrees.
  • A bachelor’s degree can have an area of emphasis in a specific subject area. These degree programs are what I refer to as “emphasis degrees” (Anderson, 1978a and Melonçon, 2014). The area of emphasis is often referred to as an emphasis, track, or concentration. Normally, these degree programs share a common core with other areas of emphasis and then a have a designated number of hours in the area of emphasis. Refer to Chapter 5 for more details about the specifics of these degrees.
  • A minor is a secondary area of study that usually complements the student’s major. Minors are typically restricted to baccalaureate degree seeking students, and they will usually appear on a student’s transcript. Refer to Chapter 6 for more details about the specifics of these degrees.
  • Certificate programs are specialized curricula designed for students in search of a specific knowledge. They are offered at both the undergraduate (Refer to Chapter 6) and graduate level (Refer to Chapter 7). They are often seen outside higher education as an important form of continuing education or professional development.

Like the biological taxonomy of family, genus, and species, Figure 3.5 is a post-secondary taxonomy of instructional programs.

Figure 3.5: Taxonomy of Instructional Programs

The level is the first category for classification, and it distinguishes a degree program as graduate or undergraduate, while type discusses the type of degree program. Kind refers to the kind of type such as arts or science. Figure 3.6 represents the level and kind aspects of the taxonomy found in the data set.

Figure 3.6: Level and Kind Comparison between undergraduate (AS/BS/BA/BAS) and graduate degree programs (MA/MS)

Figure 3.6 does not include certificates or minors since they are only classified as level and type and not kind. Type is the most important classification and the one that best illustrates the curricular history of TPC. Thus, Figure 3.7 shows the type of degree and their growth over time.

Figure 3.7: TPC degree growth over time,1976-2023

The dates, 1976, 1981, 1985, 1993, and 1997, represent the publication dates of the field’s initial efforts of gathering programmatic data and identifying degree programs. The latter three dates, 2013, 2018, and 2023, are the dates from my own data compilation. The first time I gathered data on associates degrees was in 2023.

When one takes all the data together, since 2018, TPC can claim an overall growth of 21%. However, as noted in Figure 3.8, not all degree types reflect a growth rate. Figure 3.8 shows the relationship between degree type during the three data compilations that I did. In this visual representation, I have made distinctions between a degree in TPC and those degrees with an emphasis. Prior to my study with Sally Henschel (2013), undergraduate bachelor’s degree data was combined (cf., Cunningham & Harris, 1994 and Harner & Rich, 2005).  Being able to add a level of precision to the data allows TPC PAs the opportunity to do one-to-one comparisons because emphasis degrees have different requirements than degree programs.[3]

Figure 3.8: Comparison of degree types at dates 2013, 2018, and 2023 in time.[4]

At the graduate level, there has been a decrease in both master’s degrees and certificates since 2018, but there is still a level of growth for master’s degrees (5%) and graduate certificates (21%) since 2013. The same is true for emphasis degrees which show a nominal reduction since 2018 but a growth rate of 10% since 2013.

Following are the growth rates since 2018 for degree types that have shown a robust growth over the last five years:

  • TPC BA/BS/BAS: 62%
  • Undergraduate certificates: 31%
  • Minors: 42%

It cannot be stressed enough that any use of these growth rates must be used with an asterisk to ensure that the growth rates are placed in context. Yes, there is growth in all areas depending on the way the data is interpreted. But, TPC can be seen as a microcosm of trends within higher education. There have been program closures and contractions at the same time of program growth (as noted above and below). The instability of higher education is reflected in TPC programs as a humanistic field.

The reductions in graduate degrees and emphasis degrees signal areas of concern about the sustainability of degree programs. it should also be noted that while true there has been growth in minors and undergraduate certificates, it is likely because they are easier to start within local contexts and are used as test areas before launching either type of bachelor’s degree. I am often asked to predict whether growth rates will continue, but given instability of higher education climate, it’s difficult predict patterns or growth rates moving forward. While I am fully committed to and believe in the value of TPC degree programs, the field does have a continuous problem in being able to adequately describe what it is that our programs do for students.[5]

[1] Refer to Louise Wetherbee Phelps & John Ackerman, 2010 for more information on this project.

[2] TPC PAs should consult with their College Associate Dean, the registrar, or the institutional office that manages data (which is called various things at different institutions) to find out how their degrees are being reported and consider a change to the more TPC specific code.

[3] Refer to Chapter 4 and 5 for further explanations.

[4] While the overall number of TPC bachelor’s degrees was reported in a publication in 2018, (Meloncon & Schrieber, 2018) the update to the rest of the data was never published at that iteration of data gathering and verifying.

[5] This description challenge is discussed in different ways in Chapter 8, 10, and 11.