Bethel College has launched a business degree it says is the first of its kind in the nation. The Spanish-assisted program mirrors the Mishawaka school’s existing business curriculum and will also boost English speaking and writing skills. Vice President for Adult & Graduate Studies Toni Steffensen Pauls says the program is "taught by people who speak their language, who have made the transition successfully into the professional community." The pilot group consists of up to 10 students in Elkhart County and Steffensen Pauls hopes it will grow to 100 within a year.

Steffensen Pauls says there is a great need for the program. The school cites Pew Research Center statistics, which say less than 15 percent of Hispanic adults in the U.S. has a bachelor’s degree. "Being conversationally fluent in English is not the same as having academic proficiency in English. There are many people who are capable of understanding academic concepts and earning a degree, but because of the language barrier, there is a gap that seems impossible for them to overcome and they don’t consider the possibility of going to college," Pauls says. "We want to help them unlock their potential by having a dual focus on teaching them the academic concepts as well as developing their English skills."

Pauls says language barriers keep native Spanish speakers from advancing in their careers. "We are helping to elevate opportunities for a group of individuals who represent an untapped resource in our community."

Early classes in the program will be taught by professors who speak Spanish and discussions and class assignments will me mostly in Spanish. As students progress, instruction and coursework will shift to English.

The pilot program launched last week and is funded through a $10,000 Elkhart County Community Foundation grant and a $5,000 private donation. Bethel College is hoping the program can serve as a state and nation model.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Steffensen Pauls says the program will help fill a degree attainment gap.