Jen Schneiderjans came to MU with a firm plan in mind: She wanted to be a high school Spanish teacher. She had done her homework to find a college with a program specializing in teaching foreign language to secondary school students, and was looking at a handful of choices, including MU, Truman State University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the University of Tampa.
MU was her pick because she liked its foreign language education program and study-abroad opportunities. She found her classes to be every bit as enjoyable and valuable as she’d hoped.
But she was in for a shock: The degree was on its way to the chopping block.
“My first semester, they just basically came in and said, ‘We’re phasing out this program. You guys will get to finish, but don’t get behind,’” she said.
Foreign language education degree eliminated in 2001
Schneiderjans is among the last MU students to finish an undergraduate degree in foreign language education. The students were told they needed to graduate by 2005 — or otherwise finish via independent study classes.
Foreign language education was eliminated in 2001, when the university was dealing with substantial cuts and withholdings from state appropriations. A small program, usually with only about 20 students total and costing about $15,000 toward the teacher’s salary per year, it was unfortunately not a hard choice to cut, said Deborah Carr, associate dean for the College of Education.
“It hadn’t met the minimum undergraduate number for years,” she said, citing minimum numbers at about 20 students per incoming class. “We didn’t have the resources to do it.”
Considering budget constraints, it’s getting more difficult for a college at an institution the size of MU to maintain a small program like foreign language education, she said.
Collaboration is the key
In hopes of keeping the program from falling entirely by the wayside, administrators in both the College of Education and the College of Arts and Science, along with Flore Zephir, a French professor who previously handled the foreign language education program, worked to find a viable alternative. The catch: It couldn’t add extra costs.
After numerous meetings, the group hammered out a plan for master’s degree students. Instead of a degree in foreign language education, the plan included a curriculum that would meet state requirements for a teaching certificate. Masters students studying foreign language could take classes defined in the curriculum and then be recommended by the university for state certification.
“For me, it was the very best thing that could have been done,” Carr said. “Keep the doors open for foreign language.”
In the last two years of offering the certification plan, the university has attracted a handful of students. Currently, five are working toward certificates.
Program still has bugs to be worked out
As with any new program, however, there are a few bugs. The curriculum takes some juggling for both students and faculty members. When dealing with both colleges, students have to take initiative to find out what their requirements are and stay on track.
“Both of them work together, but it’s really on you to make sure that you’re coordinating everything appropriately,” said master’s student Pam Lewandowski, who is working toward Spanish teaching certification.
Administrators are still working out the details for how the program would work for all of the languages offered by MU. Currently, administrators have only defined plans for French and Spanish students.
No similar programs — degree or certification — are offered at Columbia or Stephens colleges. At the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Missouri-St. Louis, certification programs have long been offered for both undergraduate and graduate students.
The two other UM system programs tend to attract more students than MU’s. About 30 students are working toward certification at UMKC and about 60 are doing so at UMSL, according to foreign language program directors at both universities.
Popularity might be higher in urban areas because there are more school districts for students to work in once they get their degrees, program directors said.
“It gives us a bit more flexibility in our student placements,” said Sheridan Wigginton, program director for UMSL.
Despite setbacks, MU master’s students working toward certification say they are happy with the program. And Carr said she’s delighted that despite the cuts, the colleges could salvage some semblance of a foreign language education curriculum.
“With budget cuts, the answer is collaboration,” Carr said. “As long as divisions are willing to work together, we can find answers.”