WKU secures renewed federal funding for Chinese language education

Photo courtesy of WKU. 

Western Kentucky University’s Chinese Flagship – an education program that allows students to seamlessly pair foreign language acquisition with their undergraduate degree – has secured renewed federal funding through 2020 to 2024.

WKU is one of a dozen institutions in the country to host a Chinese Flagship program funded through the National Security Education Program at the Department of Defense.

“This is a very high-quality program,” Laura McGee, principal investigator of the Chinese Flagship at WKU, said in a news release. “We have a team of faculty, staff and student leaders who are committed to the success of flagship students. Every part of this program is designed to help our students meet the challenge and prepare for global careers. I see students go through tremendous personal and professional growth during their time with us.”

WKU’s Chinese Flagship program launched in 2009. The language education program allows students to work toward a “superior” level proficiency in Chinese while pursuing their undergraduate degree. The experience also includes a living learning community, a language immersion house, summer intensive study programs and a senior-year capstone experience, along with academic and career advising.

“Our students graduate with expertise in their major complemented by a professional level of proficiency in Chinese,” Potter College of Arts and Letters Dean Larry Snyder said in the university’s news release. “International experiences and intercultural training round out their skills. We’re so pleased to offer this combination of intensive academic training and high-touch mentoring that sets them up for success.”

WKU said the renewed four-year grant provides funding for programming and student scholarships. As much as $325,000 in annual grant dollars fund activities, training, testing and positions. Additional grant dollars go toward scholarships for students who are participating in intensive language programs or internships.

Many of the program’s graduates have started careers in the public and private sectors or gone on to pursue graduate education in medicine, law, international affairs, human rights and environmental science. Most are working in Kentucky or in the region, though graduates are also employed in major cities across the U.S., mainland China or Taiwan.

In April 2019, WKU cut ties with its on-campus Confucius Institute because of a conflict with federal funding for its Chinese Flagship program.

The move marked the end of a nine-year relationship with its Confucius Institute, which offered Chinese language and cultural education programming to 47 public schools in 20 Kentucky school districts using teachers recruited from China.

WKU President Timothy Caboni explained the move in a brief email sent to faculty and staff at the time.

“Defense spending legislation passed in 2018 prohibits institutions from hosting Confucius Institutes if they receive U.S. Department of Defense funding for Chinese language programs,” Caboni wrote last year. “Although many efforts have been made, WKU has been denied a waiver from the (Department of Defense) that would allow WKU to operate both the CI and the Chinese Flagship Program.”

As a result, WKU terminated its partnership with Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing, but the program was continued by a transfer to Simpson County Schools.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.