Survey of Enrollments in Russian Language Classes, 2020
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
COVID had a negative effect on college enrollments nationwide in 2020. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, overall fall undergraduate student enrollment was down by 4.4% year-on-year. More significant drops were seen in freshman enrollments (down 16.1%) and community college enrollments (down 18.9%).
First and second year Russian programs likewise experienced a substantial enrollment drop. Year-on-year, it fell by 8.9%, with a 7% drop in first year students and a 12.7% drop in second year. This is despite a small uptick of 2.7% in the number of reporting institutions.
The average number of students per program fell 12% to 44, the lowest number ever recorded in the history of this survey.
Below are first and second year fall enrollments 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
While the crisis has negatively impacted programs on the whole, it has not impacted all programs equally. Perhaps unexpectedly, it appears that the crisis has vastly increased volatility in both directions.
To track trends in enrollment, we can calculate year-on-year growth for any program reporting for two consecutive years. For 2019-2020, a majority of such programs have reported negative growth, with a record 25 programs reporting substantial losses of more than 20%. However, those programs that did experience growth tended to experience substantial growth. In fact, a record 7 programs, nearly half of those in the high-growth category, reported growth of 50% or more.
Furthermore, two programs, having shrunk to the low single digits in 2019, recovered to the low double digits in 2020. This resulted in two outliers reporting over 500% growth, enough to skew the overall average to just over 10%. Without these two, the average was -3.6%, still less than half the drop in overall numbers reported above. Such was the effect of volitility at the positive end of the spectrum.
The most substantial losses were incurred by larger programs with more than 60 students. These programs have always been in the minority, but have also been the most consistent source of steady growth overall. In 2020, however, this category was the only one see collective declines. Smaller categories had enough programs reporting extraordinary growth to offset the losses back to positive.
These trends had a substantial impact on the range of program categories reporting for 2020. The numbers of programs with 20-40 students grew substantially, with this growth coming from all available sources – from larger programs shrinking, smaller programs growing, and from programs joining the survey for the first time.
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 pack 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, seperate 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 such services.
Spring and Summer Intensives
Summer intensive courses were offered by 17 reporting institutions in 2020 with a total of 470 students enrolled. The largest programs were held at Indiana University (145 students), Los Angeles City College (76), University of Pittsburgh (62), Columbia University (39) and University of Wisconsin – Madison (26).
Spring intensive courses saw enrollment fall year-on-year 44.6% in 2020. This stems in part from a drop in reporting programs, from 11 in 2019 to just 8 in 2020. The five largest such programs were Los Angeles City College (42), University of Texas at Austin (31), University of Arizona (23), George Mason University (16), and Bucknell University (11).
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 an academic goals. Such students will rarely show up in university statistics.
Lastly, the numbers for 2020 study abroad 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.
For the 2019-2020 school year, 72 Russian departments reported having a sum total of 261 individual students study abroad. An additional 8 departments reported having faculty-led tours that attracted a total of 180 students.
We also asked how study abroad is integrated and/or supported at these institutions. The results of that survey are below, presented with simplified categories. The actual questions asked are listed below in the same order that they appear on the graph.
- We have an active exchange with a university abroad for Russian language study
- Students can easily fulfill requirements toward their degree in Russian language/Russian studies with study abroad
- Our department offers funding for study abroad
- Study abroad is required for Russian majors at our institution
- Study abroad is required for all majors at our institution
- Our institution promotes and supports faculty-led programs abroad
- Our institution offers funding to support faculty-led programs abroad
- Institutional policy does not actively promote or support study abroad
- Institutional policy discourages study abroad
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 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 1189 students are counted in these categories, or about 25% of the number enrolled in standard courses. 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. 2020 saw an increase in the number of reporting institutions and a substantial increase in students enrolled.
A significant amount of this growth can be attributed to Brigham Young University, which has reported growth from 69 students in 2018 to 94 in 2019 to 198 in 2020, to become far and away the leader in advanced Russian language courses.
Other major institutions offering such courses include University of Wisconsin – Madison (52), US Air Force Academy (50), Los Angeles City College (47), and University of Texas at Austin (43).
The number of graduates also rose in 2020 as compared to previous years. However, this may be due to a clarification of how the question was asked. This year, we revised the question to ask more specifically how many graduates the school had for the previous school year. The question had before been seen to imply graduates only for the fall semester.
We also improved the wording on questions about “minors” and “Russian Studies” so as to address different terms used by the diverse institutions our respondents work within. Thus, “minor” is defined as including any status below that of major such as “concentration,” “certificate,” and similar. “Russian Studies” is defined as a degree that requires completing several classes concentrating in Russian culture, history, or politics (such as international studies majors who specialize at least in part in Russia).
In short, these improved definitions may have contributed to the marked increase in reporting institutions and graduates reported.
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 numberous 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.
A full 3/4 of respondents answered simply that no virtual classes were currently offered via partnerships or via other campuses. Of those that currently offer classes in such a format, however, most expect their number to remain steady or increase. Only one respondent expected a decrease.
We have begun tracking faculty numbers as of 2020.
As of the 2019-2020 school year, respondents reported a total of 183 non-tenured positions and 139.5 tenured positions (some are half time or split between programs). This means that, for each program reporting, there are an average of 1.63 non-tenured positions and 1.24 tenured.
Most respondents see stability in future in their staff numbers. There are slightly more expecting cuts than expecting expansion. Interestingly, the numbers would seem to favor a slight shift towards tenured positions than untenured.
Shortly after we published our 2002-2019 survey, we had several requests from researchers for information about student diversity. Unfortunately, we had none to share.
Furthermore, our survey is aimed at professors, who often don’t have this information at hand. While many universities do track this, the information is not available to most professors at the classroom or even departmental level.
For a completely accurate survey, the university registrar would need to be surveyed or the students approached individually and asked to self identify. Both of these would require very different distribution channels for such a survey than what we currently have developed.
What we elected to do was to ask a very general question to gain an educated overview, asking professors simply what their perception was on how diversity is changing within their classrooms.
In the opinion of more than three quarters of respondents, diversity is not changing. This coincides with the fact that much has been said within professional organizations for Russian and Russian studies teachers that more should be done to promote diversity.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.