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Martin Center column probes NCSU’s language requirement

Megan Zogby writes for the Martin Center about N.C. State University’s “quixotic” foreign language requirement.

For decades, universities have required students to fulfill a foreign language requirement. However, some research has shown that two semesters of a foreign language appears to have no meaningful effect on the language proficiency of college graduates.

Putting students through language classes adds to their tuition bill, but doesn’t teach them a new skill for their careers.

In North Carolina, the University of North Carolina schools require two years of a foreign language during high school for admission. For certain majors, such as business, the humanities, and social sciences, UNC students are expected to take more foreign language classes as undergraduates.

Usually, majors that require foreign language courses expect students to take an exam and place in more-advanced classes. If students don’t do well on the placement exam, they can take the introductory language class but receive no credit (similar to a remedial course), or choose a new language and start in the introductory class. Then, they can take a second-level course and complete their language requirement.

If a student didn’t work hard on a foreign language in high school, the incentive is to take a new class to avoid taking extra classes for no credit. Otherwise, it could delay their graduation—it only takes one or two extra classes to delay graduation by a semester. And that is a real concern: the National Center for Education Statistics noted that only 41 percent of first-time full-time college students complete a bachelor’s degree in four years.

Foreign language requirements can’t carry all the blame for students not graduating on time, of course. But the mindset that requires them and many other boxes to be checked without asking whether they benefit students makes it harder for students to learn and graduate. If faculty or provosts won’t ask hard questions, then governing boards should.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...