Reflection: How Now Shapes the Future – Emerging Trends from the LCTL Trenches

Reflection: How Now Shapes the Future – Emerging Trends from the LCTL Trenches

Jacques du Plessis (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA & University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0177-0.ch001
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Abstract

This chapter is a commentary on the state of foreign language education in the digital age.
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Who Survives?

The dramatic shift in revenue streams for public education impacts the very purpose of what a university education will be in the future. In the 1960s, state support for public higher education was around 80%. That has dwindled to below 20% today (2015). The unavoidable result has been a greater dependence on tuition dollars to sustain the enterprise, leading to greater scrutiny of the financial sustainability of every course and program. As a rather typical example, the University of Michigan explains the need to raise tuition as follows: “For the coming fiscal year (FY2016) state funding will increase 1.4 percent, which helped to keep the increase in tuition at less than the rate of inflation for in-state students. However, in the 1960s, state funding made up 80 percent of the U-M’s general fund budget – the budget that pays for the university’s core academic programs. In the coming year, the state appropriation will be around 16 percent of the general fund budget” (University of Michigan, 2014). The website includes the following graph to visualize this reality (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

State support vs. tuition and fees, 1960 - 2012

While the government was a steady and reliable funder of higher education, the mission of the university offered the “universe” of knowledge for learning, exploration and research. Although the university trained students in specialization fields, there was a strong focus on critical thinking and intentional exposure to a broad diversity of ideas and thought about the cultural and intellectual richness of humanity. As the Physics Department chair at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee so aptly put it to me, the most common profession students graduating in the physics department go into is the stock market. Their skills in forecasting, building models, and thinking critically prepares them well for this field.

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