Liberal arts colleges losing their raison d’etre


Graphic by Yesenia Montenegro

Fewer people are enrolling in foreign language majors, but foreign language study is more important than ever.

by Yesenia Montenegro , Editor

The short URL of the present article is:

Colleges and universities all over the country have begun removing arts and humanities majors. As a teen who has grown up bilingual in German and has been learning Spanish  since middle school, I am frustrated about how devalued foreign language study has become.

Even colleges in this area, such as McDaniel College, have already started the process of removing German, Latin, and French majors and minors. The leadership is waiting for the trustees’ approval in May. This is ironic because in 2017, McDaniel College was ranked 11th in Maryland as a top college in Maryland for the quality of their foreign language program.

McDaniel is planning to use the money saved from removing these programs to strengthen their already existing academic programs.

McDaniel is a liberal arts college, where one of the main focuses should be the arts and humanities. Some of the other majors that are vanishing include art history and music. Removing majors like this completely contradicts the mission of a liberal arts school.

McDaniel also hosted an annual high school German-American Day celebration. Linganore German students were able to visit the school for a field trip every year. Without this event, connection to high schools and potential future college students is broken. 

“German-American day activities are still planned for this fall, which will coincide with its 25th anniversary, but this will probably be its last year,” said the head of the foreign language department at McDaniel, Martine Motard-Noar.

Most colleges require some form of language proficiency for their students. Students looking to enroll at the College of Arts and Humanities at UMD need to have completed at least four classes of the same language in high school. Students who are trying to meet UMD’s general requirements for admission to college need two credits of a language.

Studying a language doesn’t mean learning a language–that’s unfortunate.

In America, fewer than one percent of people are proficient in a language studied in a U.S. classroom. Eckhard Kuhn-Osius, professor of German language at Hunter College in New York and chair of the American Association of Teachers of German Testing Commission, showed in a study that a student that has taken two, three, or even four semesters of a foreign language does not have the professional proficiency needed for a job requiring someone bilingual.

“I want to have a better understanding of different cultures and how they interact with others,” said Sean Butehorn, who is planning to minor in Spanish next year.

With colleges removing even more ways for a student to become fluent in a language, students looking for jobs will have fewer opportunities.

So how does this affect someone like me? I grew up in Germany speaking English and German. In seventh grade I started learning Spanish as well and will be taking the AP Spanish test this spring.

Since middle school, I have had the opportunity to take Spanish I through AP Spanish, but if foreign language classes are going to stop at the college level, many high school students may not want to continue their foreign language studies to reach that high level of proficiency.

Since moving to America, I have been continuing my German studies at the GLC in Potomac. Last year I completed the DSD II, which will allow me to go to college in Germany. It also allows me to receive the Seal of Biliteracy. While Maryland has been trying to promote the Seal of Biliteracy, higher education is scaling down on foreign language study.

“They’re cutting all the programs that make you a well-rounded person. They are pushing math and science, but people need to learn how to communicate and learn about other cultures,” said retired German teacher, Joanne Freimuth. 

Being trilingual gives me lots of opportunities for careers. Speaking at least one other language is criteria many employers look for in a candidate. Employees are willing to pay a lot for their bilingual employees. Bilingual employees can generally earn anywhere between 5 and 20% more per hour. If opportunities for studying foreign language are decreasing, receiving benefits like this will be much harder.