Language Matters...For Colleges and Universities

Savvy colleges and universities strive to prepare students who meet the demands of a global workforce. Yet a disconnect remains: Most Americans do not graduate from college fluent in a second language or acquire any global skills, even though employers increasingly demand it.

Businesses leaders continue to indicate a desire for graduates ready to work, equipped with skills in critical world languages and global competencies to participate in multicultural and collaborative environments.

The world is changing—and the skills our graduates attain from higher education must change too. Can your college or university boldly pledge that it is preparing future leaders to succeed in a 21st century economy?


More and more, businesses operating in the United States seek new talent with specialized language skills: In 2014 alone, over half-a-million job postings in the U.S. called for multilingual candidates. When over 40 million U.S. jobs are tied to international trade, and 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of American borders, it’s only a matter of time before all jobs expect employees who can operate in multiple languages.

This is compounded by the evolving demographics of the U.S. In 2015, Northern Illinois University surveyed businesses to link language with the state’s economic competitiveness. The results are revealing: One out of two (49 percent) Illinois employers report that by 2020, their hiring practices would favor college graduates that speak more than one language, citing Spanish and Mandarin as the most in-demand languages for Illinois businesses.

In another study of American business leaders, 80 percent of 800 U.S. executives surveyed agreed that their business would increase if their staff had international experience.

The need for language for global graduates is clear, yet less than seven percent of undergraduates enroll in a foreign language course. This leaves far too few graduates who are multilingual professionals ready to meet the market demand.

Language matters for the future careers of your institution’s graduates. Are you preparing your students to succeed?


Internationalization is one of the fastest growing areas of competitive difference among colleges and universities today. The race to internationalize is on, to be sure, but is your institution making strategic investments, or simply chasing opportunities?

World languages and cultures are critical areas of study for your students. Over one billion individuals speak Chinese and over 400 million speak Spanish. Beyond these important world languages, Hindi, Arabic, Russian, and Portuguese are routinely cited by the U.S. Department of State as critical languages that more Americans must master to further peace and mutual understanding amongst nations. In order to provide graduates with a practical education that prepares them for a global economy, your school’s language programs, study abroad options, and classes—from business to history to literature to politics—must reflect a modern world.

The ability to attract and retain domestic students, international students, and prominent international faculty depends on colleges and universities’ commitment to developing globally oriented campuses. This should be influenced by the world—not as it was last century, but as it evolves moving forward.


The drive to send more students abroad (like through Generation Study Abroad, of which we are proud partners) is a step forward to producing global graduates ready to participate in an international workforce.

According to a recent study, 60 percent of hiring managers and CEOs value candidates with international experience. Consider then, that less than 10 percent of American students study abroad during college. And when they do? The top three destination countries are all in Western Europe; despite that this century’s global affairs will be defined by China and other critical geographies.

We need to reverse the discrepancy between our national interest to engage with traditionally harder-to-navigate regions of the world and the countries we are sending students. Colleges and universities can differentiate themselves by adding critical languages and geographies to their study abroad portfolio—as well as advance curriculum to support it—that will prepare students to solve global challenges and to rise throughout their careers.


  1. Add your voice: Tell the world why #LanguageMatters for your future graduates
  2. Join the campaign: Become an official campaign partner
  3. Internationalize your campus: Make internationalization a priority on your campus