BYU language enrollment increases with missionary age change

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There are 20 regularly taught language families at BYU, comprising 83 distinct languages. Enrollment in BYU’s advanced language courses has increased with the return of students affected by the LDS Church’s mission age change in October 2012. (Graphic by Curtis Soderborg)

Advanced language enrollment at BYU has increased with the returning wave of missionaries affected by the mission age change in October 2012.

BYU undergraduate daytime enrollment decreased following the change from 30,290 students in Fall 2012 to 26,674 students in Fall 2014, according to data from university spokesman Todd Hollingshead. As the numbers began to return to normal in Fall 2015 with an undergraduate daytime enrollment of 29,682, BYU saw a record number of returned missionary students.

In 2015, BYU advanced language enrollment also experienced a 16 percent increase from 2014, according to statistics from the BYU Center for Language Studies. This data also shows the number of students enrolled in advanced language courses in 2015 (14,218) was the highest it has been in the last nine years, compared with an enrollment of 13,692 in 2007. The most current enrollment numbers are unavailable.

Humanities faculty reported noticing a recent enrollment increase in returned missionary courses in the Spanish, Portuguese, German, Russian and Chinese language programs.

“Judging by the enrollments from the last two years, the missionary age change has undoubtedly made an impact in the foreign language classes,” Agnes Welch, assistant director of the BYU Center for Language Studies, said in an e-mail. “The enrollment data that we collected substantiated an increase.”

BYU humanities associate dean Ray Clifford said although the general trend in BYU language enrollment has been upward, this trend started before the mission age change was announced. Clifford said while there may have been a recent enrollment increase as a result of the temporary spike in the number of missionaries now returning, the major factor driving the increase is the school’s new Language Certificate Program, which began before the mission age change.

“Language Certificates document the language competence of students from all BYU majors,” Clifford said in an e-mail. “As more students realize the benefit of documenting their language competence for both employment and graduate school applications, the Language Certificate program is having a long-lasting impact on upper-division language enrollments.”

Asian and Near Eastern Studies Department Chair Dana Bourgerie said the program hired extra teachers due to the recent enrollment growth.

“Anytime enrollments go up, it’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that most academic units like because we want to serve as many students as we can,” Bourgerie said. “On the other hand, to get quality, well-trained teachers on a fairly short notice is not easy, and so it’s a challenge that way.”

Bourgerie said he has noticed a recent change in the age and type of students enrolling in advanced language enrollment courses. He said the change has been especially helpful for students in internship and scholarship opportunities, such as BYU’s Chinese Flagship program.

“Now we have returned missionaries who are much younger, and they start into this program very early because they have the proficiency to get started in the advanced program much earlier than they used to,” Bourgerie said.

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