University Senate approves changes to language requirement

File photo of Cherry Hall.

Emma Collins

The University Senate approved a resolution that would allow students to count their two years of foreign language study in high school as their modern language requirement at their last meeting of the semester.

The resolution would change the requirement that students obtain their world-language credit by passing at least the 102-equivalent of a language course or passing a proficiency test, usually the STAMP Test. The change only affects students enrolled through June 2018 and will clear the backlog of 7,000 students still waiting to fulfill their language requirement, according to Jerry Daday, chair of the Colonnade General Education Committee that proposed the resolution. The resolution, though approved by the senate, will have to be approved by the administration in order to go into effect.

“This is basically a band-aid to clear the deck, to basically say that the 7,000 students who still have not filled the requirement that if you have two years of high school [credit], you’ve fulfilled it,” Daday said.

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Daday said the problem stems from the inability to provide enough seats in 102-equivalent sections. Daday said about 3,500 students enter WKU every year. In the last four years, WKU has only had the capacity to have 2,500 students in 102 language sections. Daday said the 7,000-student backlog is too great to be able to accommodate current and future students who need to receive their language credit. He said with the number of students entering and the number of seats offered in a 102 class, the backlog will only continue to increase.

Daday said WKU does not have enough faculty to meet the demands for novice-level language classes and there are no resources to hire more faculty members.

“This is a staffing issue that’s become a curricular issue,” Daday said.

Daday said he expects most of the 7,000 students will meet the requirement of two years of a foreign language in high school. Under Kentucky’s pre-college curriculum requirements, students must have two units of a single world language, according to the Kentucky Department of Education. The minimum requirement to graduate high school in Kentucky, however, does not include a world language requirement.

Daday said WKU’s world language requirement will still exist, and students who did not pass their high school language classes will still need to receive credit from WKU. Students who entered WKU without two years of a foreign language will still need to take language courses from WKU.

Daday said groups on campus will work together to figure out a way to prevent a backlog from building up again and to ensure students can take the world language courses they need.

“So, we need to think about if we want to keep the world proficiency language requirement how do we do it in a way where the backlog doesn’t materialize again?” Daday said.

Daday said the groups involved with solving the problem will present a plan to the Colonnade Committee in February.

The resolution was met with some uncertainty. One senator said he worried about a “dilution of academic quality.” Another wondered why the problem wasn’t solved earlier.

Daday said when the Colonnade Program was put into place in 2014, it was expected that students would take the STAMP Test in high school and start at WKU with the world language requirement already filled. He said that never happened, so WKU must now find a way to accommodate a large number of students.

Robert Dietle, an associate professor of history and interim director of the School of Journalism and Broadcasting, said many of the students who enter WKU with two years of language classes chose not to take the STAMP Test. The test is offered by the Counseling and Testing Center and comes with a $35 fee to cover both the test and testing service fee.

“We have not been able to find a way to persuade them to take the exam,” Dietle said.

The Counseling and Testing Center provides the test to 60 students per month, according to the resolution. An average of 92 students passed the test over the past three fall semesters.

Daday said the committee discussed applying the changes only to juniors and seniors, but that option was discarded because about 5,000 of the 7,000 students are freshmen and sophomores. Completely clearing the backlog will allow the groups looking for a solution to start new “from day one,” Daday said.

Andi Dahmer, Student Government Association president, said she thinks it is important to tell students that many graduate programs require more than a high school level language proficiency. She said she also worries that changing one Colonnade requirement might make it easier to change another.

“It’s important that we communicate these things because if we’re nixing a language requirement for a certain set of students this could be misleading when conveyed to future students,” Dahmer said.

Another suggestion was to implement a test specific to WKU to test if students are proficient enough in a language to receive college credit.

Susann Davis, an Spanish instructor, said proficiency is difficult to test with a written test. She said if WKU were to introduce such a test, then there would need to be resources to compensate someone for evaluating the test.

Davis said the Modern Language Department believes language study is important today, but the backlog of students is a problem. She said if the resolution is put into place, then the future of the language department may be unclear.

The resolution was approved, with nine senators voting against it and one abstaining.

The University Senate also approved a revision to the academic renewal program, a program that allows students to void coursework without it counting toward graduation and the calculation of the grade-point average.

To be eligible for the program, students must not have attended a college or university in the past two years. The resolution would revise this for students with at least 60 hours and allow them to use the program without taking two years off from college.

The University Senate also passed a policies for implementing merit pay, the creation of a new course in public relations and revisions to the advertising and public relations majors.

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected].