Foreign language enrollment at Parkland remains low

Photo by Greg Gancarz

Photo by Greg Gancarz

Greg Gancarz

Staff Writer

Parkland students looking to learn foreign languages may have their hopes dashed by low enrollment numbers in these courses.

While common foreign languages like Spanish, French, and German usually have enrollment high enough to justify foundational classes, the class numbers rarely stay high enough to sustain higher-level courses.

According to Wendy Patriquin, chair of the humanities department at Parkland, even Spanish classes have been struggling to maintain enough enrollments to justify classes higher than level 102.

She says 101-level foreign language courses usually need about 12 students to get off the ground. For languages like Arabic and Portuguese, which only had a combined enrollment of only five students this semester, class formations are an impossibility.

“For a while, Arabic was very popular. We offered it up through [level] 104,” Patriquin says. “It’s a beautiful language, but so is Portuguese, and no one’s studying Portuguese either.”

Russian has fared even worse. It hasn’t had a 101-level course in years.

The problem is not just low foreign language enrollment. This trend reflects low enrollment numbers campus-wide that, according to Parkland’s official statistics, have been stagnating and diminishing in recent years.

Patriquin says Parkland isn’t to blame: college enrollment has been down nationwide.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are almost a million fewer students enrolled now than there were during the early 2010s, when enrollment peaked. This accounts for a decrease of almost five percent.

While the courses offered for common foreign languages are often sufficient for a four-year institution’s minimum requirements, the situation leaves students who are looking for more in-depth language study high and dry.

As long as enrollment remains low, Parkland students will have to go elsewhere for further language training.

For students who are already proficient in another tongue, however, there is good news. According to Patriquin, students who are already able to speak, read, and write fluently in a foreign language there is a proficiency test available. If students pass the course level they are placed into, then they just need to pay for the credits they would have earned if they had been in the lower level courses as well. Patriquin says the credits usually only cost about $10 per hour.

For students who wish to learn more than is offered at Parkland, one way they can do so, while still earning Parkland credits, is to take advantage of the college’s study abroad programs headed by Jody Littleton in C120.

Since the Study Abroad trips are coordinated through the Illinois Consortium of International Studies and Programs, students do not need to worry about low enrollments putting the trips on hold. Each trip’s members are pooled from numerous schools so cancellations are rare.

The programs offered give students the ability to travel to a wide variety of foreign nations including France, Spain, and India. Almost all of the excursions allow students the chance to earn further foreign language credits.

With total immersion often considered one of the most effective ways to learn a language, the programs have a lot to offer students who wish to become fluent.

Christina Havenland, who has been teaching both French and English as a second language at Parkland for nine years, stressed how great of an opportunity the programs are, noting how impressive the trips are considering their cost to students.

Havenland, who partly attributes dropping enrollment to lower requirements at four-year institutions, says being bilingual is still important in today’s world.

“If a student doesn’t see themselves working abroad or with foreigners, it can be hard to convince them that studying a foreign language is worth it [but it] is a very important asset both professionally and personally,” Havenland says. “In today’s increasingly internationalized economy, employers want workers who can communicate with as many communities as possible. Employers want to understand various markets, so the cultural insight a student gains from studying a foreign language opens doors professionally.”

For more information regarding study abroad, opportunities visit parkland.edu/international/studyabroad or contact Littleton at jlittleton@parkland.edu.