Expanding Language by (Online) Degree

Arabic is not a universal language, least of all in Pennsylvania. But by developing a fully online undergraduate degree in Arabic language and culture, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) will soon make Arabic universally available across its 14 colleges and universities — with other online language programs to follow.

The plan comes amid efforts by PASSHE administrators to consolidate resources across the system by cutting programs at some institutions that can be offered online by others. A pending budget proposal by Governor Tom Corbett would cut the system’s funding by more than half in the coming year, and language programs on a number of campuses have already been shuttered.

Administrators at some colleges in recent years have talked about taking foreign language instruction online in place of existing, face-to-face classes. That is not the case here, since none of the 14 PASSHE institutions currently offer degrees in Arabic. The plan to offer a fully online Arabic program is not an attempt to consolidate existing resources, but rather a bid to diversify the system’s language offerings amid the current regime of budget cuts, system officials told Inside Higher Ed.

Even though interest in the language — which is spoken by nearly 200 million people worldwide, including those in many geopolitical hot spots — is growing, trying to get funding for a new program at any single PASSHE institution would be a tough sell, says James Moran, the system’s vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.

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