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In his State of the State address in January, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper discussed the need to incorporate more skill-based training into the state’s education system to prepare students for 21st century jobs.  To that end, he proposed that high schools should offer computer coding as an option to meet their foreign language requirements.

This is an interesting idea, but putting it into practice won’t simply involve convincing high schools to offer coding classes and to let students take such classes to fulfill a graduation requirement.  Colleges will need to get on board as well, and that may be more tricky.

In 2008, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education implemented a set of minimum requirements for admission to the state’s public four-year colleges and universities.  These Higher Education Admission Requirements (HEAR) did not include foreign language for the high school Classes of 2008 and 2009, but starting with the Class of 2010, one year of foreign language is required.

HEAR represents minimum requirements for admission to Colorado’s public four-year colleges, and individual colleges can set higher requirements.  Some have done just that: for example, the University of Colorado, Boulder requires three years of a single foreign language or two years each of two different languages; Colorado State University, Ft. Collins recommends two years of the same language.

Nationwide, most four-year colleges require that applicants have taken at least 1-2 years of a foreign language in high school.  Some selective colleges require or recommend 3-4 years of a language.  For example, Harvard recommends four years; Stanford recommends three or more years; Duke recommends at least three years; and the colleges in the University of California system require two years but recommend three.

Many colleges, especially the most selective ones, likely will not be eager to get on board with the idea that computer coding should count as a foreign language.  Thus, even if Colorado high schools start considering coding a foreign language, students would be wise to check with the colleges they’re interested in to make sure coding will count toward the college’s admission requirements.

Over the last few years, in a handful of other states, legislators have introduced bills that would make coding an option to fulfill high school graduation requirements.  However, Georgia is the only state that has passed such legislation.  As for whether Governor Hickenlooper’s suggestion will gain support in Colorado, only time will tell.