By Maddy Berner
Enrollments in foreign-language courses at American colleges have declined after nearly 20 years of growth, falling 6.7 percent from the fall of 2009 to the fall of 2013, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Modern Language Association.
Rosemary G. Feal, the association’s executive director, speculated that several factors could have played a role in the decline, including rising student interest in career-oriented subjects such as business in the wake of the recession. Those studies leave less time for language classes, Ms. Feal said.
The MLA’s report was based on a survey of 2,435 American colleges and universities that offer programs in languages other than English. The report compares foreign-language enrollment data from two- and four-year institutions, as well as graduate programs, from 2009 to 2013.
Enrollments in language courses at two-year, four-year, and graduate programs all dropped over that four-year period. Graduate enrollments suffered their second such decline, falling further after a drop between the fall of 2006 and the fall of 2009. All but five of the commonly taught languages at this level experienced double-digit losses.
Across all institution levels, Spanish and French continued to be the two most-studied foreign languages, with Spanish posting higher enrollment numbers than all other languages combined. However, the new data are significant because they reflect the first decline in Spanish enrollments at every institutional level in the history of the survey, with the numbers falling 8 percent over four years.
Ms. Feal attributed the decline to the rising number of other languages being offered in both high school and college, and she added that colleges are doing a better job of promoting other languages. The new survey covered 34 languages that were not included in the previous one.