Survey of Enrollments in Russian Language Classes 2020-2021
This survey was first conducted by CCPCR, The Committee on College and Pre-College Russian. The committee was created in 1984 as a result of the Report of the National Committee for Russian Language Study (1983), which itself followed a report of the Carter administration’s Presidential Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies (1979). Noting (in 1983) that “enrollments in the Russian language have dropped more precipitously than those in any other major modern language,” the Committee for Russian Language Study, composed of representatives of AAASS, AATSEEL, and ACTR, made 12 recommendations in the Report, among which was an initiative to strengthen pre-college Russian programs and establish a survey of pre-college Russian teaching.
In 2002, CCPCR added an annual fall survey of college/university-level Russian enrollments at the 1st and 2nd year levels. This survey was coordinated from 2002-2018 by John Schillinger, now Emeritus Professor of Russian from American University in Washington, D.C. In 2018, Professor Schillinger retired from heading the survey and SRAS, an organization specialized in study abroad to Eurasia and promoting and supporting the study of Eurasia in North America, took over. Find out more about SRAS and our varied projects.
Since 2018 SRAS has, in conference with several Russian professors, sought to make the survey even richer and more informative. The survey was moved to a larger, electronic questionnaire and all previous information was loaded into a single database to allow for extended analysis and the creation of graphics. Additional questions are added based on interests professors expressed in focus groups conducted by SRAS.
If you are interested in supporting Russian language study at the pre-college or college level or wish to connect with SRAS, either to add information about your program, ask questions, or make recommendations for our projects, please contact us.
Survey of Fall Enrollments 2020 - 2021
COVID and other factors continued to have a negative effect on college enrollments nationwide in 2021. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, overall fall undergraduate student enrollment was down 2.5% year-on-year and down 5.1% since 2019. Freshman enrollments have been disproportionately hit (down about 16% since 2019), although they seem to have stabilized this year, and even gained slightly, at least at non-profit private colleges.
Similar to last year, our Survey of Russian Enrolments recorded volatility within higher education. This year, the volatility is expressed differently – mostly in the number and type of reporting institutions. Actual program numbers seem to have stabilized somewhat.
This year saw a 16.5% drop in the number of reporting institutions, to levels approximately matching what we saw in 2010. Reported student numbers are only comparable to those last reported in 2006. These drops may be COVID-related disruptions, including those to teachers’ schedules affecting their ability to participate in this all-volunteer effort.
Average student enrolment per program also dropped from last year’s historic low of 44 per program to just 40 this year. However, as we shall see below, this is tied at least partially to a historically greater percentage of smaller programs reporting.
Below are first and second year fall enrollments as reported since 2002. As most such language classes are most often taught as two-part, year-long classes, it is assumed that spring enrollment should be roughly equivalent.
Program Size and Growth
To track trends in enrollment, we can calculate year-on-year growth for any program reporting for two consecutive years. For 2020-2021, a majority of such programs have reported negative growth, as happened in 2019-2020. However, 2020-2021 also saw far less volatility in programs reporting extreme losses or gains. Thus, the reported average program contraction of 1.07% can be considered to be fairly representative of the collective field as reported.
Further hope can be taken by the fact that larger programs, although less likely to report this year, have apparently recaptured their status as the growth engine of the field. Programs with more than 60 students reported average growth of nearly 10%. Programs with less than 20 students were most likely to report and the only sector to report significant losses. On average, they shrunk by 7.2% year-on-year.
Many of these smaller programs especially noted that their drop in numbers is tied to their insitution’s abandonment of language requirements. We plan to track language requirements again next year to determine what percentage of institutions these policy changes may be affecting.
Lastly, below, we can see that a record number of smaller programs reported this year. Some reported for the first time and some have occasionally reported and contributed again this year. In measuring programs that either grew above 20 students or shrank below 20 students, those that shrank outnumber those that grew by only two programs.
Other Opportunities for Language Learning and Exposure
While most first and second year language classes are taught as two-part, year-long courses, this is not always the case. A growing number of institutions offer spring and/or summer intensive classes, which concentrate a full year’s curriculum into one spring semester or summer session. Some students also choose to earn their language credits through study abroad and are not counted as enrolled in one of the standard university programs above. Finally, separate heritage speaker programs are available at many universities, serving immigrants, their children, and adoptees entering colleges.
All of these can absorb the same demand for basic language instruction that standard year-long first and second year courses rely on. Therefore, this survey began tracking heritage speaker programs and spring intensive enrollments in 2018 and summer intensive and study abroad as of 2020 to gain a fuller picture of the demand for Russian language instruction.
Spring and Summer Intensives
Study abroad often becomes part of students’ degree programs as most intuitions will accept the credits from their students’ experiences.
Gathering statistics for study abroad numbers, however, is somewhat tricky. Our respondents are professors within Russian departments and not all departments track which students are studying abroad, even when credit is being transferred. In these cases it is instead a function of a different university department, such as the study abroad department and/or registrar. Thus, not always will Russian departments have ready access to these statistics.
Also, study abroad students don’t always study abroad for credit, instead simply seeking the experience of being abroad long-term to pursue their own personal academic goals. Such students will rarely show up in university statistics.
Lastly, the numbers for 2021 study abroad, like those for 2020, are likely to be themselves abnormal, due the added travel and academic restrictions created in response to the COVID pandemic. Despite such problems, we hope that, within time, the data set will be large enough to provide a general picture of this important aspect of language education.
Individual study abroad over the 2020-2021 academic year saw a further year-on-year drop in reported individual study abroad as seen below. However, the average number of students reported per institution actually grew – from 3.6 to 4.4. This year saw some institutions open approved study abroad for fall students while others kept programs closed, which can explain some of the drop in the number of programs reporting. Pent-up demand from the previous semesters when the programs were closed is a likely explanation for the higher per-program numbers.
Faculty-led study abroad, in which educators lead coordinated, usually short-term programs abroad, was hardest hit in 2020-2021. No program activity was reported for that academic year.
Heritage Speaker Programs
Heritage speakers of Russian – students who grew up with Russian spoken in their household, but who may still lack formal language instruction and literacy in that language – also often take first and second year courses in university. However, many institutions offer specialized courses for them, as they have specialized learning needs.
In 2021, such programs saw a steep decline for a second year in a row. After falling 41.6% last academic year, enrollments fell again in 2020-2021 by another 54%. Average number of students enrolled has also fallen – from 14.6 in 2019 to just 8.4 in 2021.
Given that many of these heritage speakers appeared in the US during a wave of immigration that occurred largely in the 1990s and early 2000s, it could be that what we are seeing here is not only COVID-related disruption, but also a permanent shrinking of the market.
In 2020, such programs saw a steep decline of 41.6% in enrollments, from 219 to 128.
The Importance of Alternative Language Study Options
We can see that intensives, heritage programs, and study abroad are important to track in our efforts to understand how many students are studying Russian.
Overall, an additional 782 students are counted in these categories, or about 21% of the number enrolled in standard courses. This number is comparable to last year, when such students represented 25% of the total. Although there may be some overlap, particularly in study abroad, analyzing these categories shows that demand for language and culture instruction and exposure is much greater than that shown in enrollments for first and second year courses alone.
Majors and Graduates
Advanced courses are defined as any language-focused class that takes students beyond the second-year language curriculum. 2021 saw a dip in both programs reporting and the number of students reported. However, in the four years the number has been tracked, the average number of students per program has been on a positive growth curve.
Most of this, however, can be attributed to Brigham Young University, which has been competing only against itself for the #1 position in terms of students enrolled. They have grown from 69 students in 2018 to 94 in 2019 to 198 in 2020 and finally 217 in 2021. Each of these numbers are the largest reported for any university in any year of this survey.
Other top-five institutions offering such courses in 2020-2021 include Los Angeles City College (53), Ohio State University (50), Indiana University Bloomington (49), and University of Wisconsin – Madison (41).
The number of graduates per program fell by 7% in 2020-2021 as compared to the previous academic year. This may be affected by the larger percentage of small programs reporting this year. Overall, however, we can see that the number of graduates reported is relatively stable.
Partnerships and Virtual Courses
COVID, and the online classes it made so common, caused many to hypothesize that education might evolve into a more persistently digital form, perhaps with more numerous partnerships between institutions sharing teaching resources to offer more diverse courses. We asked our respondents to share how formats were expected to change within the next three years at their institutions.
Compared to last year, the percentage of those expecting an increase in such courses has approximately halved while the percentage expecting things to stay the same has approximately doubled. Meanwhile, the percentage of those reporting that their institution does not participate in partnerships is down slightly. Thus, it appears that many of those who planned to open new partnerships may have already done so and there are fewer new plans in the pipeline. Changes to this area of education affected by COVID may already be slowing.
We have begun tracking faculty numbers as of 2020.
This year saw a small increase in faculty-per-program. This is particularly interesting considering the percentage of smaller programs participating this year.
In 2021, tenured faculty per program notched up from 1.25 to 1.26 per program while non tenured faculty also rose from 1.63 to 1.68. Next year we plan to additionally track the number of graduate students and other non-faculty individuals teaching for programs.
Most respondents see stability in future in their staff numbers with 84% stating that they see no changes being made to the number of staff in the next three years. Meanwhile, the number expecting an increase in staff has doubled since last year from 4.6% to 9.6%. Those expecting a decrease also fell this year, from 10.2% to 6.7%.
The survey tracked books used in first and second year Russian classes for the third time this year.
The most significant changes that have occurred in this time are the diversification of material for first year Russian classes. In 2014, Golosa dominated with 55% market share while in 2021, it held only 34%. Mezhdu nami, a free and online coursebook has seen the most substantial growth, growing every year from 1.7% to 13.3% to 14.4%. Beginner’s Russian has also seen substantial growth.
Other texts in use in 2021 include Russian Full Circle (1 reported use), I Love Russian (1), and Basic Russian (1).
Materials for second year Russian classes have remained much more stable, with Golosa and V puti vying for first place and Live from Russia showing a strong third each year. The most significant change has been the appearance of Mezhdu nami as a solid fourth place in the last two surveys.
Other texts in use in 2021 for second year classes include Beginner’s Russian and Troika (2 instances each) as well as Making Progress in Russian, Panorama, I Love Russian, Day Without Dying, and Nachalo (1 instance each).
Anyone interested in seeing individual program numbers, program growth calculations, and/or raw data for majors and minors, can do so by accessing this Googlesheet. The original questionaire is archived here.
Surveys for additional years can be found here.
The SRAS guides were excellent! They really knew their stuff and were able to relate the history of the places we visited in an interesting and inventive way. It was obvious they had a lot of experience working with American students.
A long overdue thank you for the wonderful trip you and your staff planned for the Drew group in St. Petersburg. I have never had a trip where NOTHING went wrong. It was a terrific experience from start to finish, your staff was superb and St. Petersburg Economics University was a marvelous host. We enjoyed each and every lecture and guide, and the many fine added touches. I would love to do this again.
My Dear Renee, I am still in Kazakhstan but can report back we had a perfectly splendid time in Kyrgyzstan. The students and I want to collectively buy a little plot of land and a yurt or house in the village at the base of the mountains. They loved their families and I fell in love with Kenzhe, we want to include her in our documentary. I will be in touch over the next two weeks. Forever grateful to you.
We had a great time overall. The students were super impressed with SRAS — the guides, the accommodations, the excursions, etc. The guides were super knowledgeable and kind–the only thing that would improve the tours is volume. They tend to speak quietly so a few people who can’t hear lose interest. But we loved the Hermitage art project and Novgorod, and the bunker, and going behind the fountains at Peterhof, and the boat to Peterhof… We loved everything!
Renee, the work that you do is so far beyond any kind of formal service or trip planning in your vision, scope, and ability to think of absolutely everything and anticipate potential problems in advance. You clearly have a gift for this.
Thanks again to (SRAS Assistant Director) Josh Wilson for being so helpful with getting us started! At our concluding discussion class yesterday I asked the students to write and then present five “Kliuchevykh slov” about their experience. Several of them wound up referencing Josh’s comments about trying to observe without judging, which he made during the Moscow Walking Tour. Thanks for helping me teach this course!