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Should MSU Denver require a language course?

A University task force is seeking feedback on a proposal to mandate at least one language course as a graduation requirement.

By Lindsey Coulter

April 29, 2020

Spanish class in session.A task force comprising representatives from Academic Affairs and Student Affairs is seeking feedback on a proposal to mandate at least one language course as a graduation requirement.

The task force formed at the request of the Department of Modern Languages to examine the proposal has reviewed a host of data. The task force was asked to consider a language requirement as it aligns with the University’s mission of preparing students for “lifelong learning in a multicultural, global and technological society.”

The group seeks faculty and student feedback via an easy two-minute survey.

After consulting multiple sources and compiling data from peer universities, the task force compiled the following data points and observations: 

Language instruction in Colorado

  • According to a 2013 report, only 10% to 20% of high school students in Colorado were enrolled in a world-language class. Even assuming an improvement in numbers, this leaves more than 70% of Colorado students without exposure to a second language at the time of high school graduation.
  • There is no statewide language requirement.
  • Denver Public Schools, one of MSU Denver’s largest sources of incoming undergraduate students, offers world languages solely as electives.

Language instruction in the U.S.

  • Nationally, 19 states have a world-language requirement for high school graduation.
  • The Colorado Department of Higher Education recommends the study of world language.
  • In the most recent year surveyed, 44% of high school students nationwide were enrolled in a world-language class.
  • Only 25% of U.S. residents can hold a proficient conversation in a non-native language.

International perspective

  • In most European countries, students are required to study at least one world language starting in primary school and continuing through high school.
  • Additionally, 54% of Europeans can hold a proficient conversation in a language other than their native one.
  • A second language is an admission requirement to universities in countries such as Japan and South Korea.
  • India and China, two of the largest economies in the world, require language instruction outside of the native tongue.

Peer institutions 

  • In Colorado, every four-year university except MSU Denver requires a world language for admission. The requirement varies from one to three years in high school, depending on degree and program.
  • Of our 21 CDHE peers, 10 require a world language for admission, seven require a world language for graduation, two have a General Studies requirement in a world language and three have no world-language requirement.

“This data has prompted extensive discussions at task-force meetings,” said Shaun Schafer, Ph.D., committee lead. “Beyond what our state, neighbors and peers are doing, we have also focused on what is happening in individual disciplines, how students are coming to our institution, whether different industries value language skills, the personal benefits of language study and a host of other considerations.”

The task force will deliver a report on the ramifications of a possible language requirement to the Faculty Senate president and the provost by the end of the spring semester.

The task force includes:

  • Shaun T. Schafer
  • Jean-Francois Duclos
  • Anahi Russo
  • Chitti Govindarajulu
  • Joshua Martin
  • Fred Barlow
  • Tina Herring
  • Jackson Lamb
  • Camden Farmer
  • Kathryn Kenyon

Topics: Academics, Graduate

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