Chicago: City Colleges: Foreign-language requirements coming: Globalization spurs schools to follow a national trend

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Mar 25 16:52:21 UTC 2009,0,3857688.story

City Colleges: Foreign-language requirements coming: Globalization
spurs schools to follow a national trend
By Angie Leventis Lourgos

Special to the Tribune

March 25, 2009

 The City Colleges of Chicago plan to add a foreign-language
requirement, following a growing trend among community colleges across
the country. Starting this fall, the schools intend to require two
semesters of foreign language to earn an associate of arts degree. The
change would apply to students who plan to transfer to a four-year
school, not those seeking vocational or technical degrees. The
requirement is pending approval by the Board of Trustees, which is
expected to discuss it the first week in April, said Chancellor Wayne

Experience with another language would give students an advantage when
transferring to a four-year school, as well as in the increasingly
competitive job market, he said. While two semesters might not make
students fluent, it would establish a foundation for communication and
give students experience with other cultures. "And it gives them the
opportunity to say, 'You know, I want to take another semester and
learn more,' " he said. "It opens that door." Watson said the
community college district has been augmenting its foreign-language
program for the last four years in anticipation of increased
enrollment due to the proposed requirement. Of 14,000 transfer-degree
students this year, only 695 are enrolled in a foreign language. Ten
times as many, or more, could be taking a language next school year.

The district offers French, German, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese, and
some schools also teach Italian and Japanese. There is a study-abroad
program, immersing students in China and Spain for a month, and
administrators hope to send students to an Arabic-speaking nation this
year. The new requirement would not extend the time it takes to
graduate. The eight credit hours of foreign language would reduce to
16 the number allowed for electives. The City Colleges had a
foreign-language requirement until the late 1960s, when it was removed
during a wave of change in higher education across the country, Watson
said. During the era of the Vietnam War, many colleges and
universities switched to pass-fail systems or shed some core
requirements to make the curriculum more flexible. In the process,
Watson said, "we watered down our standard of excellence."

Higher education expert John Thelin said many community colleges
started expanding their missions. Most two-year schools were once
called "junior colleges," and their purpose was to prepare students
for a four-year university, but in the 1960s and 1970s, they began
offering more technical and vocational programs, as well as
non-credit, personal enrichment classes. "With that diversity and
expansion, there was probably less need for those academic standards,"
said Thelin, educational policy professor at the University of
Kentucky and author of the book "A History of American Higher

But in the last two decades, more two-year institutions have been
adding foreign-language requirements, said Rosemary Feal, executive
director of the Modern Language Association in New York. Its surveys
found that while 18 percent of two-year schools required foreign
language in the 1987-88 school year, the number rose seven years later
to 23 percent. The most recent survey in 1998-99 found that about 30
percent require foreign-language course work, and Feal surmises that
the number is continuing to grow because more four-year universities
are requiring a foreign language for admission.

Schools are responding to a more global job market where speaking a
foreign language is often a necessity, especially in fields such as
business, health care and education, she said.  Several students at
Malcolm X College—one of the City Colleges—said the change will be
beneficial. Keisha Cribbs, 21, said understanding another language is
essential. She is already enrolled in Spanish and said she believes it
will help her in her chosen career of nursing.

A marketing student sees it as part of preparing to work in business
today. "More jobs look for bilingual workers, especially as the world
gets more diverse," said Lance Alexander Head, 29.

Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune

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