Colleges see big drop in foreign-language enrollments

According to the latest MLA survey, college-level enrollments in languages other than English peaked in 2009 at almost 1.7 million. (Adobe Stock)

Fewer college students are taking foreign language courses, and a new report warns this could affect how well students are prepared for a globalized world.

The Modern Language Association survey finds fewer students chose to study languages other than English between 2016 and 2021. Nationally, enrollment dropped 17% during the same period, and the impact in Indiana is far greater.

Deborah Cohn, provost professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University, explained the dropping numbers could spell trouble for students applying for college, and have implications for equity.

"In Indiana, between 2016 and 2021, they dropped from 42,000 to 30,000. So, that is a drop, in that five-year period, of 29.4%," she said.

Cohn pointed out that foreign language studies provide cultural knowledge and open doors for many types of jobs. The report says adequate funding for language programs, and support from the schools, are needed to help keep them going.

According to the report, making foreign language courses more career-focused might attract more students. Cohn underscored that the nation is becoming more diverse - so it's important to understand and be able to connect with others.

"We actually need language study for jobs to serve both the domestic market but also the international market. We need people who can speak languages who can offer social services, legal services, medical services within this country," she continued.

One thing that might turn the ship, according to Cohn, is getting students involved in studying languages at all levels - especially when they are young. The report also recommends schools build partnerships with multicultural organizations.

By Joe Ulery, Producer

December 5, 2023