U international programs face large cut from feds

Officials say a proposed 40 percent cut to Title VI grants would hurt four University programs.

Jill Jensen

Mohamed Dirie grew up speaking Somali, but he was not able to read or write it until the University of Minnesota started an intermediate-level language course in fall 2009.
âÄúIt made me believe that the Somali language was important,âÄù Dirie said.
With the growing Somali population in Minnesota, Dirie said itâÄôs critical that the University continues to offer the language classes, which are completely funded by a federal grant through Title VI of the Higher Education Act. But this funding could be in jeopardy if Congress passes cuts to them next year.
Facing pressure to balance the federal budget, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee recommended slashing 40 percent of Title VI funding, which gives four-year grants to four international programs at the University: the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, the Institute for Global Studies, the European Studies Consortium and the Center for International Business Education and Research.
After the House approved its 2012 budget plan in principle April 15, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said budget cuts across the board were essential.
âÄúThe spending spree is over,âÄù Ryan said. âÄúWe cannot keep spending money we donâÄôt have.âÄù
But program directors at the University are crossing their fingers the cut doesnâÄôt come because of the impact they see these international programs have on the University, the state and the region.
Evelyn Davidheiser, the director of the Institute for Global Studies, said if funds are cut, the Institute would probably have to stop developing curriculum, teaching some languages at the advanced levels and contributing resources to libraries and to courses in less commonly taught languages.
She estimates Title VI grants account for 75 percent of her budget.
Although the Institute and the European Studies Consortium both have a four-year grant through August 2014, Davidheiser said funding for the two could be âÄúdramatically lessâÄù next year because the cut would reduce the size of current grants.
She said without that funding, the University would likely withdraw its support as well.
The impact of the Institute and the Consortium may seem âÄúsubtle,âÄù she said, but their programs affect more than the 6,000 University students who enroll in the less commonly taught language courses âÄî everything but Spanish, French and German âÄî every year. They also provide more than $400,000 each year to undergraduate and graduate students as fellowships.
The Institute for Global Studies has been able to start courses in languages like Swahili and Somali, which Davidheiser said would probably not exist without the outside funding provided by Title VI.
âÄúI think the real hit would be support for these language programs,âÄù Davidheiser said.
Cuts to these programs would affect more than just University endeavors. The total impact of the Institute and Consortium is hard to gauge, said Laura Seifert, coordinator of the Consortium.
Davidheiser said there is a âÄúmultiplier effect.âÄù For example, the Institute hosts outreach programs for K-12 teachers, who bring that knowledge back to their students.
Other programs would see cuts to similar activities.
The Center for International Business Education and Research began in 2010 to help U.S. businesses compete on a global scale.
Managing director Abby Pinto said a significant cut would reduce the ability to fund scholarships for University students as well as to develop and run study abroad programs. It would also limit outreach to businesses and K-12 and higher education schools in the region.
 âÄúWe really rely on and build partnerships within the University and with organizations outside the University to deliver our programming,âÄù Pinto said, âÄúso we are able to have much bigger impact from our dollars because we can leverage those partnerships.âÄù
For the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, director Elaine Tarone said the proposed cut would negatively affect two-thirds of its programs.
CARLA focuses on improving the quality of teaching languages, she said, by supporting language immersion projects, which deliver regular curriculum in a certain language and âÄúare popping up like mushroomsâÄù in Minnesota.
In addition to paying for the staff that assesses and trains language teachers, Tarone said they also maintain a free searchable database on where, when and who teaches less common languages, which she said the federal government uses.
CARLA supports areas where the University doesnâÄôt have enough students or resources and in areas that are âÄúcritical to our nationâÄôs survival in this coming century,âÄù Tarone said. âÄúThatâÄôs the beauty of this program âĦ We need people with high levels of linguistic and cultural competence.âÄù
ItâÄôs unclear how likely it is for the cuts to pass, but program directors expect to know the outcome in the next couple weeks.