IN AUGUST 1987 the staff of the Modern Language Association completed work on its Fall 1986 Survey of Foreign Language Registrations in US Institutions of Higher Education, the sixteenth in a series of surveys conducted since 1958 under contract with the US Office of Education or its successor, the US Department of Education. Data for the survey were obtained from a postcard questionnaire sent to the registrars of the 2,659 two- and four-year institutions listed in the MLA's computerized files, plus 252 additional institutionsprimarily seminarieslisted in the 1987 Higher Education Directory, published by Higher Education Publications, Inc. Replies were received from all but 58 of the institutions canvassed, giving the MLA a response rate of 98%. Among the respondents, 2,343, or 82.1%, reported registrations in one or more languages other than English.
The 1986 survey shows a total of 1,003,234 foreign language registrations, an increase of 3.9% since the last published report, for the fall term 1983. The 1983 survey showed an increase of 4.5% above the total reported in 1980. The current survey is also the first in fourteen years to yield a total of enrollments larger than one million. The peak enrollment year for foreign languages in higher education was 1968, when a total of 1,127,363 registrations was reported; the 1972 total was 1,008,912. Between 1972 and 1980, the total fell by 8.3%; between 1980 and 1986, however, it rose again by 8.5%.
After the decline of the 1970s, the 1980s have brought an increase not only in the national total of language registrations but also in the ratio of language enrollments to total college and university enrollments. As shown in table 1, below, that ratio had reached a peak of 16.5 in 1965, declined to 7.3 in 1980, and remained relatively stable at 7.4 in 1983. For 1986, the ratio is calculated as 7.8.
Table 2 presents the results of the 1986 enrollment survey, with a breakdown by language for the twelve most commonly taught languages, plus an aggregate figure for the 103 other languages listed by the institutions; separate tallies for two-year colleges and undergraduate and graduate registrations in four-year colleges and universities; comparative totals from the 1983 survey; and a figure indicating percentage change in the language totals between 1983 and 1986. The table reveals widely different trends for the various languages. Decreases were recorded for Arabic, German, Ancient Greek, and Hebrew; French and Latin increased slightly; Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish showed moderate increases (of between 5.8% and 14.0%); and enrollments in Chinese and Japanese increased dramatically. Japanese has now risen from ninth to seventh place among the languages, and Chinese from tenth to ninth.
The six leading languagesSpanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Latinaccounted for 90.4% of the total registrations in foreign languages in the colleges and universities covered in the survey; the other six languages listed in table 2 accounted for an additional 8.2%, and the remaining 1.4% were distributed among 103 additional languages, ancient and modern. Of these, 28 are European languages, 27 from the Middle East and Africa, 33 from Asia and the Pacific, and 15 are languages indigenous to North and South America.
Spanish, having displaced French from its leadership position in 1970, remains the most widely taught foreign language in US higher education, as it has been in secondary schools since 1948. Spanish now accounts for 46.6% of the total registrations in the five leading modern languages. In 1960, Spanish had accounted for only 30.0% of the total, and French had accounted for 38.4%. Table 3, based on the registrations in the five leading modern languages, shows the percentage of the total in each of these five languages from 1960 to 1986. Table 4 depicts growth trends in ten less commonly taught languages over the same twenty-six-year period, while table 5 provides registration data and indexes of growth for the five leading languages.
In 1960, 455 two-year colleges reported foreign language registrations; by 1972 the number of institutions had peaked at 899 and by 1974 was down to 835. Since then the number has risen and fallen slightly from survey to survey; in 1986 it was 832. Having increased steadily since 1972, total language enrollments in two-year colleges underwent a slight decline between 1977 and 1980. Between 1980 and 1983 they held steady, and they experienced another slight decline (of 0.9%) between 1983 and 1986. Spanish, with 89,491 enrollments, accounts for 54.9% of the two-year college total. The state of California is the location of 104 of the 832 responding two-year institutions and has 63,772 enrollments, or 39.2% of the total for the nation.
References to the category of critical or strategic languages were used by the MLA, the US Office of Education, and other agencies during the early 1960s but were later replaced by the designation less commonly taught languages. The line between commonly and less commonly taught is arbitrary, but most MLA survey reports have drawn it below the seventh language on the list in descending order of reported registrations. Until this year the list of the seven most commonly taught languages included the five leading modern foreign languagesFrench, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanishplus Latin and Ancient Greek. As of 1986, however, the seventh most commonly taught language is no longer Ancient Greek, but Japanese. Accordingly, while the traditional grouping is still meaningful for statistical purposes, it can no longer be labeled as it was before 1986 but must be designated simply as the five most commonly taught languages plus Latin and Ancient Greek.
Taken together, the less commonly taught languagesthat is, all languages other than the seven named abovehave experienced considerable growth in recent years. In 1968, total enrollment in these languages was 32,813; in 1972 it was 59,532, and in 1983 it was 68,866. The total for 1986 is 78,039 registrations; of these, 40,345 (51.7%) are in Japanese or Chinese. Registration figures for Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, Portuguese, and Arabic are included in table 2, while table 6 lists the 103 languages not presented in table 2 and provides enrollment data by type of institution (two-year or four-year).
The author is Director of Special Projects for the Modern Language Association. The enrollment survey was undertaken by the MLA with the support of a grant from the US Department of Education. Data were compiled by Rachel Fine, who served as research assistant on the project. The project staff also gratefully acknowledges the support and assistance of the MLA Computer Center staff, headed by David Feinberg.
|Total College Enrollment in USA 1||3,789,000||5,920,864||7,513,091||8,580,887||9,214,860||11,285,787||12,096,895||12,464,616||12,247,055|
|Index of Growth 2||100.0||156.3||198.3||226.5||243.2||297.9||319.3||329.0||323.2|
|Total MFL Registration 3||608,749||975,777||1,073,097||1,067,217||963,930||883,222||877,691||922,439||960,588|
|Index of Growth||100.0||160.3||176.3||175.3||158.3||145.1||144.2||151.5||157.8|
MFL Registration as % of Total
|1 Source: Center for Education Statistics, USED. Figures show total enrollments in the fifty states and the District of Columbia. The figure for 1960 is an estimate. Since the 1986 total was not available at press time, the 1985 total is used here.|
|2 For index figures, 1960=100.0|
|3 MFL=Modern Foreign Languages, i.e., all categories in table 2 except Latin and Ancient Greek.|
Four-Year Institutions Undergraduate
|1986 Four-Year Institutions Graduate||
Total Four-Year Institutions
|Percent Change in Totals 198386|
|INDEX OF GROWTH (1960=100.0)|
1968 * to 1986
|* The peak year for language enrollments was 1968.|
|Slavic, Old Church||||106|
© 1988 by the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages. All Rights Reserved.