The ingredients for a successful education in today’s world change frequently. A look at the Harvard College entrance exam of 1899 indicates a focus on ancient Western European geography, algebraic reduction, and Greek and Latin translations. While few colleges have entrance exams anymore, even fewer require an innate knowledge of Greek or Latin for acceptance. Language education in today’s world is an appropriate reflection of languages valued by a society and culture. Russian’s popularity during the Cold War for instance, is now mirrored by a growing national interest in Chinese and Arabic courses.
The Claremont Colleges, however, fall short in providing language education that reflects today’s changing geopolitical landscape. The United States Department of State designates 13 different languages, listed below, as “critical” to American national security and diplomacy. However, the colleges only offer courses in five of these languages (Persian is taught as an independent study).
Similarly, students are unable to major in any of these languages, as the only language majors are limited to the “old-world” languages such as Spanish and French. Claremont lags behind in this regard. An increasing number of colleges and universities are granting degrees in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Russian.
Based on information found on the Student Portal, the critical language courses that are offered at the Colleges are also notably full. As seen in the accompanying graph, all courses are close to maximum occupancy. Worryingly, introductory Korean, intermediate Japanese, and advanced Chinese courses are actually oversubscribed, with more students enrolled than course slots.
Most language courses, critical or not, are this full. As an example, 88.54% of seats are occupied in Spanish courses. However, languages such as Spanish and French have the benefit of having multiple sections spread out amongst the five colleges. The critical languages, by contrast, often only have one or two sections per level at one particular college. Having only one or two oversubscribed sections of a highly demanded language means those students choosing to deepen their educations in these languages are forced to conform to the language’s particular schedule.
As an example, any student wishing to take Advanced Japanese must automatically forfeit an hour between 10 AM and 11 AM on Mondays and Wednesdays, preventing them from taking any other classes in that time slot. By contrast, students pursuing advanced studies in Spanish or French have dozens of different course sections and times to choose from, giving them a far larger degree of academic freedom than students pursing critical languages.
Solving these pressures seems easy enough – adding another upper-level Japanese section, for instance would bring average course subscription rates to approximately 50% and ease scheduling pressures. However, this is easier said than done. These departments are already understaffed. The Asian Languages and Literatures Department at Pomona College (home to the Consortium’s Chinese and Japanese programs), have only eight professors in total to not only teach language courses, but also cultural and literature seminars as well. Only hiring the bare minimum of faculty necessary to teach the critical languages means that these departments lack the cultural and regional education courses that would greatly benefit students of the language.
The Claremont Colleges pride themselves on a top-flight liberal arts education. However, the absence of most critical languages at the colleges, and the lack of resources devoted to those that are taught prevents professors from being able to fully provide their students with the comprehensive education that is so vaunted at the Claremont Colleges.