Developing a bilingual workforce

By Debra Williams

Walters State Community College will offer a certificate in Spanish beginning this fall, becoming the first community college in Tennessee to offer such a program. Classes can be taken in traditional classrooms or online.

“While planning this program, we received so much positive feedback from business and industry leaders in the communities we serve,” Walters State President Tony Miksa said. “The need for Spanish speakers is spread across all fields, including human resources, health care, manufacturing, education and tourism.”

To earn the certificate, students must complete five Spanish classes and one class focused on the culture of Spanish-speaking countries. Graduates have the option of completing a national exam to determine and document fluency levels.

Erika Stevens, lead faculty for foreign languages and associate professor of Spanish, began thinking about a certificate when she realized that many students were not able to take a foreign language because of changing financial aid rules.

“A foreign language is now a requirement in only a few associate degree programs,” Stevens said. “If it is not required in your program, financial aid and scholarship programs will not pay for the class. Many of our students do want to take a foreign language and many are required to take the courses when they transfer to a four-year institution.”

The new certificate allows students to get the equivalent of a minor in Spanish, making the classes eligible for financial aid.

The certificate is also designed for students who are already part of the workforce. Stevens did extensive research before proposing the program to college leaders, who then submitted it to the Tennessee Board of Regents for review.

“Many employers wrote letters of support for the program, citing the benefits it could provide to companies, employees and clients,” Stevens said. “Companies also indicated a willingness to support employees pursuing the certificate. Several said having bilingual employees would improve safety and productivity.”

Students will choose one class customized to meet the needs of specific careers. These customized courses currently focus on language used in health care, hospitality and paramedic/EMT. More career fields are in the development phase.

This certificate fits both full-time and part-time schedules. Students may attend Walters State just for the certificate program without taking other classes. The cost may be covered by Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect or other funding sources.

This article originally appeared here.

Debra Williams

is associate director for communications and marketing at Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tennessee.