WorldView: A Language Blog

WorldView is a place for leaders in the fields of language education, global citizenship, immersion learning and other topics central to the Concordia Language Villages mission to address issues important to their fields.

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How Did This Happen? College World Language Programs are Disappearing at an Alarming Rate

By Christine Schulze | Published: February 4, 2019

On January 22, the Chronicle of Higher Education published the Modern Language Association’s most recent research on the state of foreign language programs in higher education: Colleges Lose a 'Stunning' 651 Language Programs in Three Years. The full report will be available in about a month. The results are dismal, to say the least, for the tree-year time period from 2013 to 2016. The report highlights how tightening budgets have forced institutions to make choices that leave foreign languages at the bottom of the priority pile. However, for the previous three years (2010–2013), only one language program was cut. That’s an enormous change.

A follow-up piece was published on CNN’s blog on January 29 by a professor at New York University. She argued that if we only value a monolingual society, we will be turning out graduates who will be at a significant disadvantage with their multilingual peers around the world. For example, French is a linguistic gateway to 29 countries, with 150 million French speakers on the continent of Africa alone. And yet, French is the biggest loser on campuses around the country.

One way to swing this around is to make sure that high school students are choosing colleges and universities that value and support robust modern language departments with a full array of majors/minors. We need inbound college freshmen who already have a solid foundation in another language beyond English, or two or three, and who have a thirst for advancing their language and cultural proficiency. Generation Z students have been born in a global age that requires a nimble and astute grasp of multicultural similarity and difference in order to explore any career path. Globally oriented students need to make their voices heard on college campuses!

Students study Chinese in the high school credit program
Every summer, more than 600 students enroll
in an intensive four-week course in one of 14
languages at Concordia Language Villages in order
to earn one full year of high school credit.

At Concordia Language Villages, we are priming the pipeline of language and cultural curiosity. Every year, close to 10,000 youth and young adults are immersed in one of 15 languages. And they are going on to colleges and universities that value the power of a global education on campus and that offer an array of engaging study abroad options. 

As adults who understand the power of languages, we must work individually and collectively to encourage high school students to continue language learning in college. We must encourage middle school students to take language courses in high school. We must support initiatives to maintain and even begin language classes in elementary and pre-school programs because THAT is where it all begins—at an early age to lay the foundation of knowledge, interest and familiarity when the brain is most disposed to language learning.

We are at a moment in time in our country and our world where building bridges of understanding is not only nice to do, but vital to economic prosperity and international security. Americans cannot afford to be at a linguistic or cultural disadvantage in this global age. Learning languages is a national priority, at all levels of education.

About the Author

A headshot of Christine Schulze

Christine Schulze is the executive director of Concordia Language Villages. She has been on staff for 44 years and has served as the top executive of the Language Villages since 1989. Schulze is board chair emeritus of the Alliance for International Exchange in Washington, D.C., an organization which promotes federal policies that support and advance educational and cultural exchange in all its dimensions. Schulze earned a J.D. from the University of Minnesota, and a B.A. from Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn. She is fluent in French, and has working knowledge of German and Spanish.

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