Arabic Studies Gain Popularity In American Universities

University of Arizona announced it will expand the Arabic-language offerings into a new Bachelor of Arts

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Feb 15, 2017 at 3:57 PM ET

As President Donald Trump continues to cast the Arab world as an existential threat, Arabic fluency is becoming an increasingly coveted skill to the Department of Defense. On Wednesday, the University of Arizona announced it will expand the Arabic-language offerings into a new Bachelor of Arts in Arabic.

The University already has an extensive Arabic language program called the Arabic Flagship Program, where students take extensive coursework and travel to an Arabic speaking country for one year, with the goal of gaining professional fluency. Sonia Shiri, director of the program, said that the demand to create an Arabic major came from students in the Flagship program who wanted to formalize their courses with a degree.

The Flagship Program receives funding from the National Security Education Program, a federal initiative designed to teach critical languages that help students “serve the needs of U.S. national security and national competitiveness.” The University of Arizona is one of five universities in the country in the program.

The new major will also serve students enrolled in the UA’s Project Global Officer Program, a U.S. Department of Defense initiative aimed at improving the language skills of future military officers.

“Arabic fluency is a highly sought-after skill set in the United States Air Force and the entire Department of Defense,” Colonel Brian Donahoo, former commander for the UA’s ROTC program, wrote in the program application. “A certified Arabic language major at the University of Arizona will greatly benefit the University and the Air Force ROTC program by attracting and retaining high-quality students and cadets.”

Students in other universities around the U.S. are also gaining an interest in Arabic. The University of Illinois said in its student news site on Monday that the school added five courses to their Arabic program, and the program tripled in enrollment size since 2010. Tulane University announced earlier this month that the school will also begin offering an Arabic minor this year after increased requests from students.