Survey of Enrollments in Russian Language Classes in North American Higher Education
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 2002-2019
This survey covers fall enrollments only. Most language courses are delivered in year-long two-part classes. Thus, spring enrollments are generally expected to be the same students that enrolled in the fall course. This means, however, that this survey does not include summer programming, students earning US credit while studying abroad, or spring intensive courses.
However, it does represent a targeted dataset gathered over the course of nearly two decades and focused on the most common and most heavily populated US Russian language courses. Thus, it can serve its overall intended purpose quite well – as a general overview of the state of basic Russian language instruction at the collegiate level in North America.
Polled institutions have included those in a database used by CCPCR as well as by networking through the popular listserve SEELANGS. For numbers starting in 2018, the survey has used SRAS’ database in addition to those sources previously used.
Numbers have typically been gathered a couple of months into fall semester after most students have finalized thier schedules and enrolment should be more or less set for the semester. The window for reporting has usually been closed by the end of the semester.
2018-2019, being the transition from CCPCR to SRAS, were effectively gathered until September, 2020, well after the end of the semester. We plan to return to CCPCR’s regular schedule beginining in 2020.
This survey is entirely voluntary. It has thus experienced some fluctuation in the number of reporting programs over the years, as it relies on the work and dedication of otherwise busy teachers and administrators. To compare, a much larger and more comprehensive report by the MLA recorded a total of 15,052 first and second year students of Russian spread across 404 programs for 2016. Our survey recorded about 31% of that student total and 25% of the programs listed for that year. Although slightly favoring larger programs, ours is a diverse and still statistically relavent sampling. Interesting and informative information can be drawn from the rich data gathered.
Student Enrollments Over Time
The survey began in 2002. Since that time, numerous factors have been at play and reported data has seen at least two major shifts.
In 2008, reported student fall enrollments (measured by the totals listed at the left) began growing significantly faster than the number of programs reporting (measured by the totals listed at the right).
The financial crisis of 2007-2008 precipitated a marked jump in US college enrollments as the job market contacted and many people returned to school to respecialize. The Russo-Georgian War had also occurred in late August, 2008, causing Russia to become a major news story and subject of debate in the ongoing US Presidential Election. Fall enrollment for Russian programs likely benefited from both of these facts.
The trend started in 2008 carried through 2011, when the average number of students grew to a high of 56 students per program (again, measured by the numbers at the right of the graph), when the enrollment boom reached its peak.
After 2011, however, while the number of reporting programs continued to grow, the number of reported students began to taper. For the first time since at least 1965, the US college student population began a long-term drift downward. Again, this likely had an effect on Russian programs as well.
Another major shift came in 2014, when the number of programs reporting jumped by nearly 10%, but the number of students reported barely moved. This shift came just after the Maidan Revolution and subsequent annexation of Crimea. The decline in US college enrollments was in its third year, about 4% off of the 2011 highs.
From 2011-2014, the average number of students dropped from its high of 56 to an all-time low of 46, before recovering slightly to about 47. It has been stable since, despite fluctuations in the numbers of programs reporting.
Another major factor to consider in understanding these shifts is the crisis in funding for education that has been ongoing since at least 2009. Universities have gradually adapted to the shrinking levels of funding, meaning that, as each wave of this crisis has hit, more cuts have been made. Language programs and language requirements have been disproportionately hit.
While the institutions where most of our surveyed programs are based have some sort of language requirement, only 36% now require all graduates to have studied a foreign language. However, in a broader survey conducted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, only 132 of 1100 colleges and universities listed foreign language study as a general requirement for the 2019-2020 school year. This number (12%) is a full two thirds lower than that of our reporting programs. Further, the same American Council of Trustees and Alumni reported 136 institutions with language requirements in 2017, indicating a fall of 3% over two years.
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.
Program Size and Growth Over Time
Contributing to the fall in average student enrollments (from 56 to 48, as discussed above) was a large jump in programs reporting in the under-40 categories. This occurred between 2012 and 2014, with a continued rise in under-20 until 2015. About half of these programs were those that had not previously reported their numbers or had not consistently reported them before. About half were programs which had fallen in size to the point to put them in lower categories.
A great diversity exists in program size with some programs under 10 and a very few programs reporting enrollment numbers approaching or surpassing 200.
The five largest programs for 2019 were: West Point US Military Academy (189); Ohio State University (182); U.S. Air Force Academy (144); University of Texas at Austin (127); and Texas A&M University (123). The largest program ever reported was 212 students studying at Ohio State University in 2014.
However, the majority of programs remain under 50.
To track trends in enrollment, we can calculate year-on-year growth for any program reporting for two consecutive years. This gives us a reasonably large data set from which to gauge the changes occurring not only in individual programs, but also across the field over time.
The first thing that stands out is the considerable volatility in the numbers. Reports of enrollments growing or shrinking by 30% year-on-year are not uncommon. Since 2004, there have been 37 reports of programs doubling or halving in size within a single year. While smaller programs are much more likely to experience more severe volatility, even the largest programs have seen significant year-on-year fluctuations.
Despite such volatility, average yearly growth taken across all reporting programs has dipped below zero only in four of the 16 years covered by this study. Programs have, in fact, overall reported year-on-year growth of 4.38%, averaged across all programs and all years.
Of course, with such volatility, this growth has not been evenly spread, with some programs enjoying large and consistent growth, others decline, and everything in between.
Programs unable to grow past about 20 students have also not been favored. For those programs, average growth has been most consistently negative. In fact, this is the only segment to experience this – all other program segments have averages above zero. Programs with 20-60 students have experienced some of the strongest average growth overall. Larger programs of 60+ have experienced average negative growth only once in the 16 years tracked and shown greater stability than smaller programs.
Lastly, if we compare our data against that gathered by a larger and more comprehensive MLA effort, we can see that, for instance, MLA showed a 7.4% decrease in total Russian language enrollments between 2013 and 2016. While the two numbers are fundamentally different (MLA shows a comparison of total reported students, while our number shows average individual program performance), the discrepency is still significant. We might hypothesis that our survey may be favoring more active, healthier programs.
How Russian Programs Promote Themselves
Of the eight promotional efforts listed in the survey, the average Russian program reported supporting five. These activities also mean that Russian programs are consistently contributors to campus culture.
Very few programs (7.4%) answered definitively that they believed that their promotional efforts were not worthwhile in promoting program growth or otherwise. Those that did answer negatively were often smaller programs who qualified their answer by pointing to a lack of faculty or an active Russian club to help organize events or a lack of support from the university administration in their attempts to grow, develop, or maintain their programs.
The majority of programs (60%) felt definitively that their efforts were worthwhile and another 12.6% gave tentatively positive answers. Many of these qualified their answers by pointing to the help they received from Russian clubs and the community their efforts created around their programs. Cooking events were singled out as being especially popular by some programs.
A full fifth of all programs either did not answer this question or stated that they felt the effects of their efforts could not be definitively measured.
It would seem that the fate of programs has followed larger trends in university enrollments and funding. While news cycles may have played an overall role, they appear to have played only a supporting role at best, as enrollments have dipped on news cycles that might have otherwise fueled them.
While overall growth from individual programs can be seen, the growth has come within highly volatile numbers. While nearly all programs have worked to promote themselves on campus, smaller programs are generally at a disadvantage in promotion due to smaller numbers of faculty and students. Larger programs are maintained, in part, through promotional events that rely on active student populations, especially Russian clubs, and departmental efforts that create communities around their programs and word-of-mouth to bring new students on board.
In essence, those programs that are surviving the cuts currently affecting higher education are, on average, growing, although this growth is very unevenly distributed.
Heritage Speakers in Russian Departments
In one of the more interesting new questions added to the survey, the large majority of Russian departments reported having at least one heritage speaker join their first or second year language courses in 2018 or 2019.
The majority of programs, however, reported that they did not actively track heritage speakers and thus could not answer definitively beyond the fact that they were sure they had had at least one. Those that did answer, however, generally reported between 1-5 per semester.
This is a relatively small number, but does point to widespread population of heritage speakers within the US, and the importance that reconnecting with their language and culture holds for them.
A total of 13 institutions reported hosting specialized heritage speaker programs, with specialized or accelerated curriculums that were separate from the regular first and second year classes. The largest of these programs, by enrollment in Fall, 2019, were: Hunter College (NY), 51; New York University, 15; Ohio State University, 13; Rutgers University, 12; Cornell University, 12; and UCLA, 12.
Advanced Courses and Spring Intensive Courses
Institutions offering Spring intensive courses requested that we track those numbers as well. Spring intensive courses combine fall and spring language study into a single semester course. Thus, enrollment in these courses is likely to only decrease fall enrollments, which are those that this survey has historically tracked.
Eleven institutions reported offering this type of course. In 2018, combined enrollment was 294 students. For 2019, the number was 267. The largest programs were held at: Georgetown University (68 students in Spring, 2019); University of Texas at Austin (58); Hunter College (30); George Mason University (25); and University of Arizona (23).
Advanced courses were also tracked for the first time. These are courses that go beyond the second year curriculum and often focus on literature, translation, or other specialized subjects. Only eight programs surveyed reported NOT offering advanced courses.
A total of 1262 advanced students were reported for all programs in 2018 and 1320 for 2019. The largest numbers of advanced students were reported for: Brigham Young University (69 students reported for 2019); U.S. Air Force Academy (54); Indiana University Bloomington (46); George Mason University (44); and Georgetown University (40).
Majors and Minors
A large majority of those programs reporting were from institutions offering a Russian language major and/or minor at their respective institutions.
Those institutions offering majors and minors reported a total of 270 graduating Russian language majors and 291 minors for May, 2018. For May, 2019, there were 272 majors and 288 minors. The largest numbers of majors graduated from: The University of Iowa (28 majors in May, 2019); Brigham Young University (26); Hunter College (22); Ohio State University (16); and West Point US Military Academy (15).
A slightly smaller number were from institutions offering a major and/or minor in Russian studies.
Those institutions offering majors and minors reported a total of 148 graduating Russian studies majors and 126 minors for May, 2018. For May, 2019, there were 125 majors and 179 minors. The largest numbers of majors graduated from: University of Chicago (13 majors in May, 2019); University of Texas at Austin (12); William & Mary (12); University of Arizona (10); and George Mason University and UCLA (each with 7).
An important note on these numbers, however, is that they might be slightly skewed down as some institutions indicated that, for instance, the term “minor” didn’t apply to their institutions, which instead called them “concentrations” or “certificates.” Some did not have a Russian Studies program by name, but did have, for instance, an International Studies Program in which students might concentrate in Russian studies.
We plan to adjust the language on this question during the next iteration of this survey to be more inclusive of these terms.
Books and materials used in classes have changed somewhat since 2014, the last time this survey queried Russian instructors on this topic. First, it must be pointed out that in 2014, there were 60 respondents and for 2019, there were 98. Thus, some growth in the raw reported numbers, especially for solid market leading textbooks like Golosa, should be a given. However, the larger-than-expected jumps in usage for books such as Mezhdu nami and Beginners’ Russian are remarkable. “Self Created Materials” was a write-in category in 2013 which we included as a standard category in 2019 to see how many teachers were customizing their courses. In all but one case, teachers are using these materials in conjunction with a major textbook.
Other materials that were named as being in use (all had one or two instances each) for first year Russian language classes included:
- Russian In Exercises (Serafima Khavronina)
- Learn Russian (on line)
- I Love Russian (Liden and Denz)
- Easy Russian (YouTube)
- Basic Russian Book 1 (Fayer, Mischa)
- English Grammar for Students of Russian
- Colloquial Russian
- Animation for Russian Conversation
Other materials that were named as being in use (all had one instance each) for second year Russian language classes included:
- Жили-были буквы: набор веселых историй для дошколят и их родителей
- Russian Faces and Voices
- Ruslan Russian 2
- Learn Russian (on line)
- I Love Russian (Liden and Denz)
- Graded Russian Readers
- Easy Russian (YouTube)
- Day Without Lying: A Glossed Edition for Intermediate-level Students of Russian
- Focus on Russian
- Intermediate Russian (Paperno)
- Foundations of Russian (beta test version)
- Russian Grammar in Context
- Russian as We Speak It
- English Grammar for Students of Russian
- Animation for Russian Conversation
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.
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!
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.
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.