College language schools continue expansion

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College is more linguistically diverse than most countries for two months every summer, when the school’s signature language schools take over the campus. And while the number of students in Middlebury remains relatively stable each year, the program this year is continuing its recent trend of expansion — both in number of students and geographically.
This year, some 300 students are getting their language immersion at Mills College in California. While the Arabic school and a small number of French and Spanish students moved out to the western campus in 2009, the Arabic program is joined this year by the Japanese school. That move has allowed the school to accept more students in the programs that remain in Vermont — French, Spanish, Italian, German, Hebrew, Portuguese, Russian and Chinese.
So while Middlebury continues to host a relatively stable number of students — 1,400 this year — the program is growing, with a total of 1,520 students enrolled in Middlebury’s summer language program this year.
Further, the nine-week programs (undergraduate Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Japanese) have been cut back to eight weeks, which Geisler said will allow students from colleges on trimester systems to participate in the programs as well.
To Middlebury College vice president of language schools Michael Geisler, the shift of programs has brought a welcome increase in capacity — and more stability — to the program.
“Before we had a second site, whenever there was a major renovation project we had to tell certain schools ‘you have to have fewer students this year.’”
This wasn’t always good for students expecting a reliable summer program, said Geisler.
In Middlebury, despite this summer’s renovation of one of the large campus dorms, the language schools were able to welcome increased student numbers in certain programs. Geisler said that language schools increase depending on demand, and that Arabic and Chinese continues to increase each year. He said demand for Hebrew and Portuguese also picked up this year.
Geisler said expansion doesn’t mean that the program is any less selective. This year Chinese and Arabic were the most selective — the school received 598 applications for 172 spots in the Arabic program.
And even in the programs with fewer applicants, Geisler said, the academic ability of the applicants remains high.
“The language schools are very much self-selecting,” he said. “If you have a C average, you’re probably not going to apply.”
Geisler said there are still changes in the works, but that the next significant change probably won’t be for a year or two.
“Since we’ve grown a lot, we’ll take a rest and let the infrastructure catch up to demand,” he said. “I think we can grow incrementally — whether we can or want to do more than that depends on how we want to integrate with the schools abroad.”
But the school does have some big decisions to make.
“The question is, do we add spots or add a language?” he said.
The college administration is considering the addition of another language based on where they see demand for it — at this point, said Geisler, it could be Hindi, Urdu, or possibly Korean.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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