A shortage of Arabic-language teachers across the country is shedding light on a classic economics question: What happens when there is plenty of demand and not enough supply?
Since 9/11, the number of students interested in the Middle Eastern language has been skyrocketing. More than 20,000 people in the USA enrolled in an Arabic-language higher-education program in 2006, double the number who signed up from 1998 to 2002, according to projections from a study the Modern Language Association expects to release this fall.
"Other languages will show an increase (in the fall report), but the only language that might be as dramatic as Arabic might be Chinese," says association executive director Rosemary Feal.
Interest has also trickled down to the pre-collegiate level as secondary schools and summer language camps surface across the country.
But generating student interest and enrollment is not the problem.
"There's definitely more demand for courses than there are qualified instructors," Feal says. "There's no doubt."
Education experts agree that Arabic is a difficult language to learn, more so than French or Spanish, the traditional alternatives.
Not surprisingly, the student dropout rate is high.
"We estimate that 20,000 students are studying Arabic at the collegiate level, but not even 5% are likely to graduate with functional speaking proficiency," says R. Kirk Belnap, director of the National Resource Center at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
In an attempt to fix the problem, programs are sprouting to provide Arabic lessons to younger students. (MORE)