Enrollment in non-English courses has declined sharply at American colleges and universities
A new report reveals that American college students are increasingly avoiding foreign language courses, reducing enrollment in these classes to their lowest levels in more than two decades.
Enrollment in non-English language courses at U.S. colleges and universities fell about 17% between 2016 and 2021, led by declines in German and French language courses, the Modern Language Association (MLA) said in a report released Wednesday. This decline was the largest ever, with enrollment in these courses reaching about 1.18 million, the lowest level since 1998.
Foreign language study at U.S. universities has declined since enrollment peaked at nearly 1.7 million in 2009, a decline of about 30% as colleges place greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. At the same time, schools have cut back on non-STEM programs.
“We cannot underestimate the value of studying languages.” MLA Executive Director Paula Krebs said. “The world is increasingly interconnected, and the need… [for] Knowledge of languages other than English is more important.
The number of college-level foreign language programs in the United States declined by 8.2% between 2016 and 2021, eliminating nearly 1,000 courses. German, French and Chinese programs were among the most affected. Enrollment in German language classes fell by approximately 34% over the five-year period, while French language courses saw a 23% decline. The number of students in Spanish classes was 18% lower, but it remained the leading foreign language in terms of enrollment size.
Exceptions to the downward trend included Korean, American Sign Language (ASL), and Biblical Hebrew. The MLA attributed the 38% jump in enrollment rates for Korean courses more to popular culture than purely academic activities. This increase was driven by fans of K-pop and K-drama.
In fact, Korean has replaced Russian as one of the top ten foreign languages studied at American colleges and universities. Enrollment in Russian language courses fell by almost 14% to 11,433. The growing lack of interest is clearly mutual, as sales of English textbooks in Russia reportedly fell by 33% in the first six months of this year.
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