David L. Boren Awards for International Study

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MLA Reports Increased Enrollment

December 9, 2010

“Enrollments in languages other than English at US institutions of higher education have continued to grow over the past decade and are diversifying to include an increasingly broad range of language studies,” according to a recent Modern Language Association (MLA) press release and survey.

With a 6.6 per cent increase from 2006 to 2009, foreign language course enrollment at U.S. universities is at an all-time high, continuing a steady rise (47.8 per cent) since 1995. However, a diverging pattern between undergraduate and graduate enrollment in foreign language classes has also emerged, the MLA survey shows: while undergraduate language enrollment hit a new high in 2009, enrollment in graduate language courses has fallen to 1995 levels.

Arabic saw the strongest increase in enrollment (46.3 per cent), jumping from tenth to eighth place among the most studied foreign languages on U.S. campuses. Significant increases in enrollments were also seen in Korean, Chinese, and American Sign Language, as well as in languages ranked outside the fifteen most commonly taught such as Vietnamese, Swahili, and Hindi. Spanish, French, and German still remain the three most studied languages at U.S. colleges and universities.

Regarding the newest numbers for the period 2006-2009, MLA Executive Director Rosemary G. Feal said,

“It’s gratifying to see that so many US students recognize the importance of language study for our future. The demand for an ever-greater range of languages demonstrates the vitality of the field. Despite troubling cutbacks in language offerings at some institutions, this report shows that overall interest in language study remains strong at US colleges and universities.”

As the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed remark in their respective discussions of the MLA survey, the report’s release comes at a time when many foreign language departments are facing budget cuts, and even program eliminations, which may lead to a further decrease in graduate foreign language enrollments. Concerning this issue, Russell A. Berman, the first vice president of the MLA and professor of German studies and comparative literature at Stanford University, remarked:

“Language study remains a central element of a well-rounded education [but] while student interest in languages grows, program cutbacks are threatening access to the study of languages students need to communicate effectively in an increasingly multicultural world.”

The above article was published by the Alliance for International Education and Cultural Exchange.

Find the entire 22nd MLA report here.