Seattle: Foreign languages take hit in higher-ed budget

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Mar 14 13:19:26 UTC 2009

Foreign languages take hit in higher-ed budget
Foreign-language study is taking a big hit this year at the state's
community colleges and universities, as those institutions scramble to
save money in the face of state budget cuts.

By Nick Perry

Seattle Times higher-education reporter


Foreign-language study is taking a big hit this year at the state's
community colleges and universities, as those institutions scramble to
save money in the face of state budget cuts. The University of
Washington, thanks to a change in its language requirement, plans to
reduce the number of seats offered in first-year Spanish, Italian and
French by up to 2,500 this fall. And, beginning in spring, Seattle
Central Community College will no longer offer a full second year of
Spanish study. Institutions across the state are considering similar

"It's amazing to me, given that there's so much more emphasis on
Americans becoming more globally aware," said Marisa Tubbs, a Seattle
Central student who helped organize a protest Thursday against course
cuts. "We're already lacking in languages. In Europe, kids are bi- or
trilingual by the age of 10. It's very unfortunate." Tubbs, who hopes
to transfer to the UW next fall and complete a minor in Spanish, said
she plans to commute to Bellevue Community College in the spring
quarter, after Seattle Central eliminated an early-morning Spanish
class she'd planned on taking. Ron Hamberg, Seattle Central's vice
president for instruction, said the college has cut classes that
weren't attracting many students, with the intent of doing the least
amount of damage.

He said that transfer students should still be able to major in a
foreign language, even if it means picking up extra classes once those
students are enrolled at a four-year school. In total, Seattle Central
is dropping about 4 percent of its classes this spring but could cut
more come fall, with budget reductions potentially reaching $2.3
million over the next two years, according to a campus e-mail sent
Thursday by President Mildred Ollée. Rosemary Feal, executive director
of the New York-based Modern Language Association, said language
instructors are often part-time or adjunct — and therefore easier to
lay off in tough times.

Nationwide, she said, tenure-track job openings in languages have been
dropping while demand from students remains high, especially in
languages such as Arabic and Chinese. Studying a foreign language can
reap benefits that range from broadening an individual's way of
thinking to helping businesses sell more goods abroad, proponents say.
But languages tend to be more expensive to teach than many other
courses because they require more interaction. At the UW, for
instance, first-year language classes are limited to 22 students. The
UW cuts were made possible by a significant policy change. Beginning
next fall, students who have completed three years of foreign-language
study in high school will be deemed to have satisfied the university's
undergraduate-language requirement.

Previously, students had to pass a proficiency test, which required
many to take a quarter or two of language classes at the UW.
 "We are hoping this will encourage more high-school students to take
a third year of language while they are there," said Bob Stacey, the
UW's divisional dean of arts and humanities. Stacey said the policy
change was in the works before the anticipated state budget cuts were
announced. The UW had planned to use the estimated savings of $1
million each year to shore up other language offerings. Now, the cuts
are just part of a broad range of reductions being made at the

The UW is facing a cut in state funding of up to 20 percent over the
next two years. The university is making the language cuts with the
intent of preserving the breadth of offerings, Stacey said. Students
will still be able to choose from some 55 languages — everything from
ancient Sanskrit to Uighur (pronounced wee-gore), a language spoken in
northwest China. Continued expertise in rare languages is vital for
national security, he said.

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