Survey of Enrollments in Russian Language Classes, 2022
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 2022
Our Survey of Russian Enrollments has long mirrored national trends in higher education. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, overall undergraduate student enrollment in the US has fallen every year since 2012. As birthrates have fallen over the last few decades, there are today simply fewer students to enroll.
Enrollment losses accelerated under COVID, falling some 5.1% from 2019-2021 and losing another 1.1% in 2021-2022. Today, there are millions fewer students in the US higher education system than there were a decade ago.
Likewise, Russian enrollments peaked in 2011 and saw losses accelerate under COVID. Today, programs are additionally dealing with repercussions from Russia’s “special military operation” as many students have reportedly sought to distance themselves from anything Russia related. This may have contributed to enrollments reaching new historic lows this year.
Average student enrollment per program dropped from last year’s historic low of 40 to just 38 this year, due mostly to historic drops in large programs over 60. Also contributing to this were some large programs not reporting this year.
Another constant over the last several years has been volatility in enrollments. Given the extreme pressures on the numbers, a “bounce” is certainly possible, especially as Russia’s visibility in geopolitics grows and as demand within the US government for Russian speakers is likely to grow with that.
Overall, the number of reporting institutions in 2022 rose a massive 86% year-on-year to a historic high of 169 active Russian programs, giving us perhaps our clearest picture ever of the field of Russian language study in the US.
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 2021-2022, a majority of such programs have reported negative growth, with a greater number reporting strong negative growth exceeding 20% than at any other time in the history of the survey. The average program reported a contraction of 2.19%.
Reporting Change: This year we have changed the algorithm for generating data on average growth by program size. We believe the previous algorithm was flawed as it first classed the programs based on current number and then calculated growth based off the previous year’s number. This created conditions whereby small programs were more likely to be reported as shrinking and large programs more likely to be reported as growing; thus, small programs that grew past 20 and large programs that shrank past 60 were reported as growing or shrinking mid-sized programs. To allow the categories to function as separate entities and to better understand how programs in these categories are changing overtime, it makes much more sense to class them based on where they started from rather than where they land. We apologize for this incongruity in reporting.
The new algorithm gives us a very different view of the categories and one that is much more congruent with the raw data.
Smaller programs are more likely to present outlier data – volatile swings that result in growth of 100-300% or more or contractions of 50-80%. Most larger programs, in fact, peaked around 2010-2012 and have since either held steady or declined.
Lastly, below, we can see that, although a record number of programs reported this year, the majority of those programs are have fewer than 40 first and second year students. The top tiers of programs larger than 60 claim proportionately a much smaller share than in previous years, in large part because those programs have shrunk to smaller categories. Also affecting this is the much higher response rate this year. Many more of these programs have typically been in the 20-60 range, but have only sporadically reported. This year, a greater percentage of all programs on file reported, thus raising the number of the most common program sizes.
Language requirements were hotly debated in the years before the pandemic and many universities were moving toward cancelling them. Today, this trend appears to have slowed, but is continuing.
Nationally, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni reports that only 130 of 1135 colleges and universities listed foreign language study as a general requirement for the 2021-2022 school year, down slightly from 136 in 2017.
Today, this means only 11.5% of universities require language. This is full two thirds lower than that of our reporting programs.
Our Survey of Russian Enrollments found that most of our surveyed programs are based at institutions that have some sort of language requirement. Further, only about over 18% do not require at least some graduates to have studied a foreign language. This number has actually fallen slightly since our 2019 poll. The positive change in requirements is likely a result of more programs reporting, rather than more universities adopting requirements.
Language requirements obviously boost the demand for foreign language courses. Language requirements are likely to support diversity in the languages offered as well, as a large, diverse population making individual choices is likely to be diverse in the choices they make if given a competitive range of options. Thus, institutions with language requirements appear to be three times more likely to host a Russian program.
Cancelled language requirements usually have a significant effect on individual programs. However, given that the number of programs reporting language requirements has not significantly changed, it’s unlikely that shifts in language requirements has significantly affected our reported numbers here.
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
Summer intensive courses were offered by 31 reporting institutions in 2022 with a total of 472 students enrolled. Over the three years of reporting, students per program has fallen from 27.6 to 23.3.
This has developed as large summer intensives seem to have largely vanished. In 2020, for instance the largest programs held 150, 145, 76, and 62 students. The largest programs for 2022 were held at Middlebury College (180 students), University of Pittsburgh (71), Indiana University Bloomington (67), Arizona State University (60), and Columbia University (34).
Spring intensive courses saw a decline in numbers of programs, numbers of students, and average number of students per program. Average numbers have steadily fallen from 32.7 in 2018 to 12.5 today.
However, numbers for 2018 and 2019 were inflated by the pandemic. As more online options opened, particularly with large and respected institutions, many students chose to take spring intensive courses with them as in-person language courses were shuttered at other institutions. Thus, these two years represented extraordinary bumper crops of students and do not make for a good comparison for spring intensive courses today. SRAS hopes to separately study this issue and report on it more fully in 2023.
In 2018, the two largest programs held 96 and 78 students. In 2019 the two largest held 68 and 58. The five largest spring intensive programs for 2022 were George Mason University (31), University of Mississippi (24), University of Arizona (23), University of Nebraska-Lincoln (7), and Brown University (7).
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.
The COVID pandemic drove study abroad to zero for our reporting institutions in 2021. In 2022, study abroad is beginning to recover with at least 79 institutions reporting at least some study abroad activity. However, we are also seeing aberrations in the individual numbers reported that lead us to believe that respondents are interpreting the questions on study abroad widely.
We will be following up with several respondents and reevaluating our collection techniques. We hope to resume wider reporting on study abroad activity next 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.
2022 saw a near doubling in the number of programs reported and a similar, though slightly lower, rise in the number of students reported. Much like with intensive programs tracked here, we have a seen a steady decline in students per program. In this case, from a high of 14.6 in 2019 to a low of 7.9 today.
One major factor in these numbers is that the largest program we have identified, Hunter College of New York, reported for 2018 and 2019 (47 and 51 students, respectively), but did not report in 2021 or 2022, although the program remains active. The next largest programs tend to report about half of what Hunter enrolls. With another program like Hunter’s on the books, the average enrollment would likely be closer to 9-10 today.
Another major factor is that, 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.
Majors and Graduates
Advanced courses are defined as any language-focused class that takes students beyond the second-year language curriculum. 2022 saw both the number of programs reporting and the number of students reported rise, although average number of students has fallen this year from a high in 2020 of nearly 17 to a low this year of about 13.6.
Top-five institutions offering such courses in 2021-2022 include Brigham Young University (160), Indiana University Bloomington (46), University of Wisconsin – Madison (44), Georgetown University (42), Yale University (40).
The number of graduates per program has fallen from a 2020 high, but has remained largely within a band of about 10-11 graduates with majors or minors each year.
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 percentages have barely changed for all categories. More institutions are expecting to increase partnerships than decrease, but the vast majority either expect to maintain existing programs or do not offer classes in partnership and do expect to do so in the future.
We have begun tracking faculty numbers as of 2020.
Over that time, average staffing has remained steady, with about 1.25 tenured faculty and 1.7 non-tenured faculty employed per program.
This year, we also began tracking how many graduate students perform teaching duties in high education. A total of 147 students are currently teaching in 143 institutions.
Most respondents see stability in future in their staff numbers with 86% stating that they see no changes being made to the number of staff in the next three years. Meanwhile, the numbers expecting increases or decreases are roughly evenly split with about 7% answering for each.
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 2022, it held only 27%. 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% to an impressive 21.1% this year. Beginner’s Russian has also seen substantial growth: from 6.7% in 2014 to 23.5% this year.
Other texts in use in 2021 include Russian Full Circle (1 reported use), Troika (2), Nachalo (5), I Love Russian (1), S mesta v kar’er (1), Beginning Russian (1), Tandem (1), A Starter Course in Russian (1), Tochka.ru (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. Usage of Mezhdu nami has more than doubled in the last two years. Etazhi and Russian: From Novice to Intermediate have also now experienced rapid growth for second year students.
Other texts in use in 2021 for second year classes include Beginner’s Russian (5 instances), Troika (4), Making Progress in Russian (3), Nachalo (2), I Love Russian (2), Day Without Lying (2), Russian: From Intermediate to Advanced (1) Graded Russian Readers (1), and Foundations of Russian (1).
With a large percentage of programs reporting this year, we took the opportunity to verify if the programs within our database who did not report this year were still listed as active on their university websites. The great majority were.
We have record of 223 institutions having taught Russian at some point. Of those, this year 169 responded, and 54 did not. Of those 54, only 10 did not have mention on their websites of Russian currently being offered.
Those 10 are:
Ferrum College (lists program as “suspended”)
John Carroll University
Luther College (IA)
Riverside Community College (CA)
University of Evansville
University of Houston (says the program is not available in 2021-2022)
University of Northwestern, St. Paul
University of Southern Indiana: Evansville
University of Southern Maine
Other Slavic and Central Asian Languages
We last asked respondents about other Slavic languages offered in 2019. This year we asked about other Slavic and Central Asian languages.
The most popular responses in both years were Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, and BCS. This year, Kazakh and Uzbek came in just behind those four as the question was adjusted to specifically ask for Central Asian Languages. The greatest change, however, came in the vastly increased number of Ukrainian programs.
This year, we began tracking Ukrainian and Polish enrollments as there was publicized circumstantial evidence that interest in these programs was rising as interest in Russian was falling. Below are our findings.
Polish Language Enrollments
Ukrainian Language Enrollments
Interest in Ukrainian grew substantially in 2022, with increased numbers across all categories.
Our 2019 survey, which polled for the existence of Ukrainian programs, found 12 of them at that time. This year, respondents reported that there were still 11 programs in existence for 2021 and 19 programs for 2022, a 73% increase.
All of these new programs, however, remained small at 13 or fewer students each and, interestingly, most of the older programs actually shrunk between 2021 and 2022. Nevertheless, enrollment growth (110%) outpaced the growth seen in the number of programs.
One of these programs, at the University of California, Berkeley, immediately rose to become the nation’s largest by reported enrollment, with 13 students. Also boosting the numbers was the fact that the University of Pittsburgh, the third largest program with 10 students, did not report numbers for 2021, although their program has existed for several years.
Interest in Ukrainian has undeniably grown in 2022, but overall enrollment is still below 150 nationally. Given this, it is unlikely that a significant percentage of those students who elected to not take Russian this year did so in order to take Ukrainian. If to build a strong base of scholars versed in Ukrainian language, much more will need to be done to build on the strong gains made this year.
We will continue to track Ukrainian enrollments in the coming years.
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 questionnaire is archived here.
Surveys for additional years can be found here.
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!
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.
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.