College Language Enrollments Down Ten Percent

Total enrollments in languages other than English declined
by 9.2% between fall 2013 and fall 2016, but there were enrollment gains on nearly
half of all language
programs (45.5%), indicating that the institutions
with well-constructed programs were attracting students, according to Modern Language
Association’s (MLA’s) latest report on language course enrollments in colleges
and universities in the U.S.
Enrollments in Languages Other Than
English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Summer 2016 and Fall
2016: Final Report documents changes in enrollments in the
fifteen most-studied languages as well as trends for less commonly studied
More than half the programs in the following languages were stable or  increased in overall enrollments: Arabic (51.5%),
American Sign Language
(53.4%), Biblical
Hebrew (53.8%), Japanese (57.4%), and Korean (75.0%). And the following languages had close to half their programs reporting stable or increased enrollments: Portuguese (40.5%), French (41.5%), Modern
Hebrew (41.6%),
German (47.1%),
Latin (47.1%), Chinese (47.5%), Russian
(48.6%), and Ancient
Greek (48.9%).
One-third of the programs in
Italian (33.2%) and Spanish (36.3%) reported stability
or growth. In advanced undergraduate enrollments (courses in the fifth through
eighth semesters), of the fifteen most commonly taught
languages, all but Spanish showed
stability or growth
in more than half their programs. And in graduate enrollments, all fifteen
languages showed stability or growth in more than half their
Of particular concern is
the 16% drop in enrollments at two-year institutions. The total number of language
programs offered in fall 2016 was down by 651, or 5.3%, since
2013, whereas between 2009 and 2013 the number of offered programs declined by just
one. This figure includes commonly
taught languages such as French
(which fell by 129 programs), Spanish
(118), German (86), and Italian
(56), as well as less commonly taught
languages such as Hindi (which
declined by 8), Yiddish
(5), and Thai (3). Twenty-three Indigenous American languages
that reported enrollments in 2009 or 2013 were not taught
in fall 2016. Staffing
for less commonly
taught languages tends to depend on non-tenure-track hiring, which makes those languages especially
vulnerable to budget changes.
The report concludes that investments are needed
in language education,
and features case
studies of successful programs
on which change can be modeled.


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