Enrollment problems plague Spanish classes

Rebecca Teale

How do you say frustrated in Spanish?
Ask College of Liberal Arts sophomore Reed Sigmund.
He is one of many students who have had difficulty getting into Spanish classes for fall and winter quarters. There are more than 5,000 University students who have been or will be in a Spanish class sometime this year.
When Sigmund went to register for winter quarter on his assigned day — the second to last day of registration — all the level three classes were full.
“The University tells you it’s possible to graduate in four years but then you go to register and all the classes are full,” Sigmund said. “It’s like, ‘Oops, we’re sorry, but your name begins with S.'”
And although students are having problems getting into French and German as well, Spanish has been the biggest trouble spot. Officials fear the semester conversion could pose additional problems for those taking foreign languages.
Sigmund’s situation has become a common complaint, said Carol Klee, the chairwoman of the Spanish and Portuguese department. Liberal arts students are required to pass a proficiency test in the foreign language of their choice, which usually means taking six quarters.
Because Spanish is consistently the most popular foreign language at the University, there are not enough classes and not enough professors.
“The Spanish department loves to have students,” Klee said, “but we are bursting at the seams.”
CLA Planning and Information Management reported that of the total 1996-97 foreign language registrations, more than 45 percent were for Spanish. The number of students taking Spanish at the University has nearly doubled in the last decade.
And there continues to be a lack of student interest in what are known as less commonly taught languages.
Professor of Ojibwe Dennis Jones said he would like to see more of the students registering for Spanish in his classroom. Jones said there are only about 35 Ojibwe students this quarter.
Past attempts to strengthen enrollment in less commonly taught languages at the University have been unsuccessful.
A short-lived policy enacted in 1988 did not give liberal arts students credit for the first year of Spanish, French or German, but did give credit for the first year of other languages. As a result, 41 percent of those enrolled in foreign languages in 1991 took the less common languages, up from 34 percent in 1987.
“It motivated students to look at other options outside of the more common languages,” Klee said of the policy.
But students had several problems with the arrangement.
Klee said CLA students were frustrated because Institute of Technology students in first year Spanish, German or French classes would be getting credit but liberal arts students would not.
Transfer students were also unhappy.
“A student coming from another school with a year of Spanish, French or German under their belts would become very upset to see those 15 credits wiped off their record,” Klee said. “We knew something was going to have to change.”
In 1991, a foreign language task force eliminated the less common languages initiative. Enrollment in less common languages has been declining ever since.
Klee said the overcrowding of Spanish classes began in 1994 with the creation of the CLA Plan.
The plan allows departments to open sections of classes depending on student demand. Klee said the plan has forced the Spanish department to hire more faculty members, but because there are so many Spanish students there is still limited access to quality instruction. The result: not enough classes.
Add to this the conversion to semesters. CLA advisers this fall pushed students to get their foreign language done as soon as possible in order to avoid any overlap when the University converts to semesters. Four semesters will take the place of six quarters, meaning that some levels will be combined.
Klee said the college’s advising office never communicated this to the foreign language departments. She said the resulting number of Spanish students has increased to an almost unmanageable point.
Jenise Rowekamp, director of the Foreign Language Center, said there are reasons students choose Spanish over other languages.
“There is a perception out there that Spanish is easy,” she said. “And because more high schools offer it, students want to continue with the language they’ve already studied. Spanish is also the second language of the United States, and has potentially the most use factor.”
But until this issue is resolved, Spanish students having trouble getting into a class have two choices. They can wait until the next quarter and try again, or they can investigate alternatives.
Sigmund ended up taking Spanish through a day-time extension class through University College, which he says was easy to get into.
“But I’m still unhappy with the University for putting me through this,” he said.