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Saving the French Major

In this blog post, we discuss a valuable option to save the traditional major which is in decline. Interdisciplinary joint majors is a solution that universities are using nationwide. Here are some excerpts from the Alliance Française de San Diego’s Steven J. Sacco’s “Interdisciplinary Joint Majors: Joining Forces with the Traditional French Major” which will be published in 2023 in a volume authored by the AATF’s Kathleen Stein-Smith. His article demonstrates that “students are still very interested in studying French; many students just don’t find it practical to major in French alone.”

“According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of French majors between 2012-2013 and 2017-2018 declined -36.9%. Between 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, the number declined yet another -3%. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in 2019 that, according to the Modern Language Association, 651 foreign language programs had been lost in a three-year period. Of the 651 programs lost, 129 were in French. Reasons for many of the cuts are complex, but the development of innovative blended language-business or language-engineering programs may be a feasible vehicle to safeguard and even grow French programs.

While French programs decline nationwide, universities featuring multidisciplinary programs or double majors---French and Business---continue to thrive. These interdisciplinary programs have demonstrated proven success in French enrollments over the last four decades. To illustrate, in 2000 NCES reported 2,371 French majors nationwide. The International Business major at San Diego State University (SDSU) reported 208 French students among its 745 interdisciplinary majors. That figure represents 8% of the total number of French majors in the U.S.—in one program at one university!

Other international business or engineering programs at California State University—Fullerton, Northeastern University, and the University of Rhode Island have reported similar strong enrollments in French. These explosive numbers demonstrate that students are still very interested in studying French; many students just don’t find it practical to major in French alone. The addition of the tripartite integrated major doesn’t eliminate existing French programs; it actually safeguards and even strengthens them.

“What set us apart” at San Diego State during Dr. Sacco's administration as director (1997-2006) comprised the following:

· One of the largest enrolled programs in the nation: 750 majors (250 fewer than at the outset of the program in 1986).

· Study-abroad coursework taught in French at business schools in the Francophone world.

· Competition for grades with French and Quebec classmates during study-abroad experience.

· Two-year and 16-month-long transnational dual-degree programs resulting in the awarding of two bachelor's degrees at graduation.

· Over 1,400 hours of internship experience abroad during the dual-degree program.

· Recipient of the Andrew Heiskell Award for Best Study Abroad Program in 2001.

· Required C1 minimum professional language proficiency for graduation.

The deliverables of the tripartite integrated major or the double degree in Business and French include the following:

1. “Academic training in the finance, management, and marketing practices of the target country;

2. Superior-level French skills well beyond the level of proficiency attainable on the home campus;

3. First-hand knowledge of, and sensitization to, the French-speaking country’s (or province’s) cultural values, norms, and taboos, as well as its political, historical, and economic heritage;

4. Experience working in a multinational firm while in the target country;

5. Experience working in multicultural teams through group class assignments with the host country’s business students and;

6. Experience dealing effectively with ambiguity and resolving intercultural problems through everyday life encounters abroad.”

So let’s compare the international business majors vis-à-vis the French majors. French proficiency levels are set higher in both SDSU and South Carolina’s international business programs. Both are set at C1 and C2. These levels are attained as a result of required study abroad requirement at the Groupe ESSEC outside of Paris. SDSU students spend a semester there, while South Carolina’s students spend two semesters and one summer. SDSU’s courses at ESSEC are taught in French while South Carolina students have the option of taking their courses in either French or English. Both programs require an internship.

Table 1: The Tripartite Integrated Major Versus The French Major

SDSU IB U of SC IB SDSU French U of SC French

Grad. Proficiency C1/C2 C1/C2 B2/C1 B2

Study abroad 1 semester 2 semesters 90 hours Not mentioned

Internship 1 semester 1 semester None None

Degree conferred B.A. B.S. B.A. B.A.

Nat’l ranking 8 1 Unranked Unranked

Recommended steps in creating a multidisciplinary major or double major in French and Business

The most important point to make in this section is that world language departments don’t have to modify or eliminate its current French major. It’s a question of adding another option for students: a tripartite integrated major melding business, language, and area studies. The French major offers a magnificent liberal arts education for its students. Language, culture, literature, civilization are academic treasures for any student whether majoring in business or in languages. Additionally, the analysis of literature teaches students to critique and to solve problems in a world that is more constructivist than objectivist. Fortunately, French majors are better prepared to analyze problems in a global context than do business majors. Unfortunately, French majors don’t possess the knowledge of business principles to help solve these global problems.


Below are four options to create your own program. Please send us your option if it’s different than Dr. Sacco's four options.

Option 1: The Tripartite Integrated Major in International Business at South Carolina is a business school program. Students minor in French without an official partnership with the world language department. The degree is a bachelor of science. Study abroad and an internship primarily account for superior proficiency in French.

Option 2: The Tripartite Integrated Major International Business major at San Diego State University is a dual-college program, although the degree conferred is a Bachelor of Arts unlike business degrees. The majority of courses are in business and international business with minors in French and area studies. Like South Carolina, study abroad and an internship primarily account for superior proficiency in French.

Option 3: The required double major as designed by Boise State’s Modern Language Department (MLD) in 1992. The major advantage of the double major is the extensive study of French literature that Options 1 and 2 don’t have. The College of Business and Economics (COBE) invited MLD to join COBE because of their joint grant-getting track record, joint partnership with the Idaho Department of Commerce and the Boise Area Chamber of Commerce, and MLD’s offering of onsite language courses to companies like Hewlett-Packard.

Option 4: A new program you might create within your world language department that joins a major in French and a minor in marketing or management (the two easiest business disciplines). This combination would also sprinkle area studies throughout the curriculum. Consider adding a French summer immersion program in Quebec, France, or Francophone Africa before selecting an exchange partner in a Francophone country.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

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