115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Responding to Crisis: Strategies to Keep Language Programs Alive

Denise R. Mohan, University of Guelph (Canada)

The School of Languages and Literatures at the University of Guelph offers multiple language programs, many of which have small numbers of majors. In response to financial pressures, reduced faculty and declining enrolment, faculty have introduced various strategies to increase enrolment, avoid course cancelations and facilitate program completion by students.


At the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, the School of Languages and Literatures offers majors in French, Spanish and Classical Studies, minors in German and Italian, and additional courses in Mandarin and Portuguese. The French major is thriving, but in every other major and minor, we, like Humanities programs across North America and beyond, are struggling to meet the institution’s acceptable registration cap in intermediate and upper year courses. Faculty is demoralised by the always looming threat of their program being cut, while the constant pressure to delete courses seriously threatens our ability to deliver full and diverse programs which give students options regarding course selection. Indeed, most of our programs have been forced to make cuts such that they now offer no more than the minimum number of credits students need to complete their program of study.  

While our courses serve large numbers of students, most of our programs are small in terms of the number of majors. At the upper intermediate and advanced levels, low enrolment is our reality. In response to years of forced course deletions and cancelations due to pressure from the Administration, and with no new faculty hires, faculty have implemented multiple strategies to attract more students to low enrolment courses with three principal objectives: increase enrolment in upper year courses, protect these courses from cancelation, make effective use of our limited faculty complement, ensure students can complete their studies, and save our programs.

Some strategies implemented:

i. 3rd year courses (0.5 credit) can be offered simultaneously as a 1.0 credit in which students perform additional modules. Benefits: one faculty member, but two courses offered. Offers flexibility to upper year students needing to complete their requirements.

ii. 4th year (1.0) credit seminars cross listed with graduate courses; undergraduates complete less requirements. Benefits as above.

iii. Creation of common courses related to language studies and counted as credits in all language programs. Examples include Linguistics, experiential learning courses and Humanities courses beneficial to students of any language. Benefit: courses related to their discipline allow students to complete their program.

iv. Attract non-language students to low enrolment courses by delivering some hours in English only (0.5 credit) and for language students, additional hours in the target language (additional 0.5 credit). Benefit: students from outside language programs increase enrolment.

v. Creation of language and culture certificates with less credits required. Benefit: interested students unable to complete even a minor can still take language courses and have them “count”. Increased enrolment.

vi. Accept credits completed in other areas of the Humanities, when the content is relevant to the language being studied. Our learning outcomes are not limited to linguistic fluency, but also to social, historical and cultural fluencies. Therefore, a History course on Ancient Greece and Rome is an accepted credit in Classical Studies, while an Art History course on Modern Latin American Art is an accepted credit in the Spanish program.

These and other initiatives will be discussed in this presentation. Our challenges and successes in saving our courses thus far will also be addressed.