The main path to becoming an interpreter includes a trek through an interpreter training program, or ITP for short. It is impossible to know the quality of any ITP or your personal experience in the program by doing an “armchair” analysis. Like any college degree, programs differ in quality and individual experiences within an ITP also varies. However, given that interpreter have long expressed concerns about the quality of interpreters coming out of 2- and 4-year program, we can at least look at how ITPs are connected to each other through credentialing opportunities and professional organizations.
How many ITPs are there? According to the RID website there are about 79 Associates degree programs offered in the U.S., 44 Bachelor degree programs, and 4 Masters degree programs. According to a 2008 article from the American Annals of the Deaf, there were 78 college programs on record that grant degrees in interpreting. Overlap in numbers is probably not the source of this, since it is unlikely that a school would offer both an AA and a BA. We can say with some certainty that there are between 78 and 127 programs in the U.S. I will use RID’s numbers since they seem more likely to be in touch with less academically-connected community college programs that the (more academic) Annals article might overlook.
How many ITPs are accredited as an ITP? Out of the 127 programs mentioned above, only 4 (3%) Associate programs have been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education, along with only 9 (20%) Bachelor programs. I am writing this at the same time I’m learning it. It feels dismal. However, there is surely more to it than meets the eye, so we’ll have to come back to this issue.
How many ITPs are involved in the Conference of Interpreter Trainers? The Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT), as the name make clear, is the organization for people who teach in ITPs. I think of CIT as the bookish and brainy sibling of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). Out of 127 ITP programs, only 11 (9%) are institutional members of CIT. Of course, many teachers may be CIT members while their program is not. Lack of organizational membership may not be terrible. However, given that membership in CIT takes paperwork and dues, I think CIT membership is a good indication of above-and-beyond support for the profession.
Something interesting emerges here.
First, there are lots and lots of ITPs in the US. Now that I think about it, 127 programs is an enormous number for such a small profession. Some reasons? High attrition rates. Higher percentage of non-traditional students and instructors who wouldn’t travel for school. I’m sure there are more.
Second, it’s the wild, wild west out there when it comes to ITPs. There doesn’t seem to be consistency in reporting even the mere existence of ITPs, much less the basic facts about individual ITPs. I couldn’t find any data on enrollment and graduation rates, number of teachers, or placement success. We have to — have to — fill in these gaps if we ever hope to develop the profession.
Third, while most ITPs aren’t represented at all beyond their mere existence, a small number of ITPs are well represented in other ways. For instance, the following three schools are members of CIT and have CCIE accreditation:
And there we have it. Our first look at ITPs.