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Want to Major in German? Good Luck With That

The end of the Eurocentric world view? The number of four-year colleges offering French, German and Italian as majors is on the decline.

Bad news for fans of European languages. According to a new study by researchers at the University of California at Riverside: Since 1970, an increasing number of schools have dropped traditional Romance languages— like French and Italian—from the choices of possible majors. And if you want to major in German, good luck finding a school offering it.

In 1970, almost 44 percent of four-year colleges offered German as a major. By 2006, that number had dropped down to just under 27 percent. As for French and Italian, 76 percent of schools offered those majors in 1970. Now only 59 percent of campuses offer them. And, since the study ends in 2006, before recession-induced budget cuts became the new normal, the number of schools dropping majors in the three languages is probably much higher.

The researchers say the decline in offerings is due to existing colleges ending their European language majors, as well as new schools not offering the programs in the first place. A lack of student demand probably also plays a role. While there's no doubt that a German major can learn cultural intelligence, critical thinking and how to write well, in such a tight job market, the usefulness of a degree in German, is going to be questioned by students worried about post-graduation employment prospects and parents paying tuition bills.

The decline in French, German and Italian programs also certainly reflects the dimming importance of those nations as economic and political influencers, and a general shift away from a Eurocentric view of the world. To that end, with the rise of Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, the number of schools offering Spanish as a major has remained stable, and campuses are increasingly adding Mandarin Chinese and Arabic to their course catalogs.

As for the rest of the majors in the study, given our national focus on math and science, the 9.4 percent decline in the number of schools offering mathematics and statistics as a major is concerning. However, the researchers say this is mainly due to new schools not including math, not a drop in existing math programs.

image via Chronicle of Higher Education

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