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Release: Oct. 22, 2001

UI launches unique joint B.A./M.A. degree program in linguistics

IOWA CITY, Iowa – A new joint-degree program at the University of Iowa gives linguistics students a chance to earn both a bachelor's and a master's degree in five years with a specialization in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL).

William Davies, chairman of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Linguistics, said current graduates of the undergraduate program who focus on TESL already are just as qualified as, and in some cases more qualified than, those who complete the master's degree at another institution. But in order to teach at the college level, a terminal degree is required, which in this case is the M.A. To teach ESL in U.S. public schools, students must obtain K-12 certification from the College of Education.

By allowing selected students to complete some undergraduate requirements with graduate-level courses and then continue on to finish the graduate program, Davies said the university will be better positioning its students for employment or graduate work.

"It's a way to give our undergraduates a better shot in the job market," he said. "Even though our B.A. students are fully prepared to teach English as a second language, without that M.A. credential most U.S. employers won't even look at them. Alternatively, the new program provides a faster track to a Ph.D. program and gives students the credential that would allow them earn a living teaching as they complete the doctorate."

In the past, M.A. graduates in linguistics with TESL specialization have achieved nearly 100 percent employment teaching at U.S. institutions—including University of Arkansas, University of Maryland, University of Missouri, University of Oregon, Ohio University, Coe College, and Dana College—and abroad in such countries as Czech Republic, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and Slovenia.

To be eligible for the B.A./M.A. program, students must be linguistics majors with a G.P.A. of 3.5 or higher. They will apply to the program after completing 80 hours of undergraduate work (typically, the end of the fifth semester.) In place of elective courses, students will take three graduate-level courses as undergraduates, and those credit hours will be applied to the M.A. as well as the B.A. Students in the new program will also gain valuable practical experience through a practicum in teaching English as a second language and subsequent work as teaching assistants in the UI ESL program.

Since the students will only take courses that are already part of the linguistics curriculum, no additional monetary or faculty resources will be needed to maintain the program, Davies said.

Both Linda Maxson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and John Keller, interim dean of the Graduate College, expressed support for the new joint degree.

"I applaud the linguistics department for its innovation and leadership in developing this new program," Maxson said. "Equally remarkable is that they have created this new opportunity under the tightest budget constraints and are offering this value-added program without additional funding from the university."

"This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to enhance their education by earning a graduate degree with only one additional year of study after the B.A.," Keller said.

Davies said that no other university in the country offers this type of program and that his colleagues who wrote letters of support to be submitted with the proposal for the program said they hoped their own institutions would follow the UI's lead in this academic innovation.