Monday, May 25, 2009

Training Students So They Can Leave?

This month's issue of The Lane Report is dedicated to "Kentucky's workforce getting smarter." The feature article discusses how recession is (or isn't) driving students into school and how Kentucky is one of only five states in the nation to have a drop in college enrollment.

What I found more interesting, however, is a table in the back of the issue supplied by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. It lists the number of bachelor's degrees awarded by public colleges in Kentucky by subject. I was very surprised to see that foreign language BA's were up. With an average that had been 95.2 foreign language graduates per year for 1999-2007, the Commonwealth's public colleges awarded 195 foreign language BA's in 2008.

While on the surface, this seems like a good thing, my question is, are we preparing them for nothing? Yes, there is a great deal you can do in Kentucky with a degree in foreign language. In addition to translating and interpreting, you can work in government, social service, tourism, journalism, and the list goes on. The jolly old fall-back I always heard was “You can teach.” And of course, the more successful graduates are always welcome to come apply to work for me. The jobs are there. And while the Kentuckians stepping out this spring to apply for them are, as The Lane Report puts it, getting smarter, is Kentucky?

Today, I lost my interpreting coordinator to Ohio. A talented employee with a true passion for learning, she and her fiance wanted to pursue PhD's and couldn’t get them in Kentucky. I know, I know, you CAN get a PhD in Kentucky. But can you get one in Spanish? Nope. Sorry, Charlie. No PhD’s in Spanish or French or German or in any other language for that matter. Simply put, if you want to learn a language at that level, Kentucky’s universities can't help you. In an economy striving to educate its workforce for survival, one of my best employees is having to leave the state in order to further her education. And now I'm trying to fill a position that wouldn't have even been open if Kentucky had offered my employee the opportunity to learn.

I understand the Commonwealth is doing all it can. I understand you can't be the best at everything. But I also understand that if these 195 students, plus their equivalents from private schools like Centre and Asbury, can't keep learning what they love best, they will learn it elsewhere. This is what smart people do: they go where they can grow.

So, what next Lane Report? Now that Kentucky’s workforce has gotten smarter, what will Kentucky do to keep them?


Sarah said...

I get your logic: more education=better. But what are PhDs for? There are a few professions, like engineering or journalism and, I suspect, languages, where having a PhD will price you out of the market. At that level, you're not learning the language on a functional level anymore. Doctoral degrees open the door primarily to teaching and to living a life in academia. Does Kentucky need more academics, or worse, more highly-educated, unemployable people? Does any state, for that matter?

It might be interesting, if the data are available, to see how many of those foreign language majors are also double majors in something else like business. A rise in foreign language majors doesn't necessarily mean a drop in other majors. We can only hope those marketing majors are finally waking up and realizing that language ability is also a desirable skill, and adding a double major.

Terena Bell - In Every Language said...

Thanks, Sarah, for your comment.

The Lane Report didn't give any double major information, unfortunately, and I kind of wondered that myself.

Also, I think it's a shame that the private colleges were left out of the study, as they certainly turn out more liberal arts grads than the publics, simply by essence of being.

I'd also have liked to have seen minors reported. I wasn't a language major myself, only a minor, and now I own an LSP (language services provider). It's language learning opportunities that matter here.

I guess one of my main questions on not having PhD programs is where are we getting the professors who taught these 195 BA's? Brain drain going out of the state because we don't have the programs, then having to bring (different?) intellectuals back into the state to teach students so they can leave. Seems like a catch-22 that could be readily fixed.

Sarah said...

I'd say that's an ideal situation! Kentucky doesn't have to pay for the education of those future profs and support them while they're impoverished students, and then the productive profs come back to KY to teach and do research, along with their higher spending potential and their probably educated spouse/partner to support Kentucky's economy. What's the problem?

But then, perhaps I'm not as invested in Kentucky as you are.