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"International Educator Magazine" featured Executive Director of Pace's English Language Institute James Stakenburg in "Weathering the Storm: How intensive English programs are responding to declining enrollments"


"International Educator Magazine" featured Executive Director of Pace's English Language Institute James Stakenburg in "Weathering the Storm: How intensive English programs are responding to declining enrollments"

AMONG INSTITUTIONS in the United States with intensive English programs (IEPs), virtuallynone have been left untouched by declining enrollments. A confluence of events—including changes to international scholarship programs, a strong U.S. dollar, a slump in Mideast oil prices, increased competition from IEPs in other countries, the current political climate in the United States, and the increased availability of English language training programs in students’ home countries and online—is driving much of the decline.“I’ve seen ebbs and flows over the years. This one feels a little different. It feels like it could be a major change in the landscape of intensive English programs,” says Bill Wallace, who has served as director of the English Language Institute at the University of Alabama for nearly 30 years. To counter the impact of these measures and enrollment declines, IEPs across the country are retooling their offerings—rolling out more short-term and customized programs, launching pathway programs, and developing courses that cater to the needs of their local communities.

“People have to get creative in order to sustain their programs,” says Patricia Szasz, assistant dean for Language and Professional Programs at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California.

‘The Whole Industry Is Changing’

Even before the current administration, the number of students enrolled in IEPs had tumbled 18.7 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2017 Open Doors report. More than 108,000 students were enrolled in IEPs in 2016, with more than 21,000 coming from China. This figure represented a 16 percent decline in the number of Chinese students compared with 2015. The number of Saudi Arabian students plummeted by 45 percent, with almost 21,000 enrolled in IEPs in 2016. Saudi students were hit by stricter restrictions placed on the King Abdullah Scholarship Program offered by their home country. Meanwhile, the number of Brazilian students participating in IEPs in the United States slumped 56 percent. About 4,700 students were enrolled in IEPs in 2016 as the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program scholarships wound down. At the same time, competition for students to study intensive English has increased from other English-speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Malta, says Cheryl Delk-Le Good, executive director of EnglishUSA, which advocates for IEPs in the United States. The organization has about 450 members, representing universities and for-profit institutions. In addition, more English language training is taking place in students’ home countries—often offered by those who studied English in the United States or the United Kingdom, Delk-Le Good says.“I think the whole industry is changing,” she says.

Effects on Staff and Students

In the face of enrollment declines, some IEPs have shut their doors, and others have had staff cutbacks. The American Language Program at California State University-Fullerton closed after the spring 2018 semester, citing changes in the global environment for English instruction.“Universities that are known as research schools with national rankings are not impacted as much as regionally ranked schools,” says Patricia Juza, director of the International English Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder and president of University and College Intensive English Program (UCIEP), a consortium of 80 university-administered intensive English programs. At those schools that have been affected by staffing cuts, program directors might now be teaching classes, and directors and faculty members may be handling marketing or recruiting duties, Juza says: “They need tohave flexibility.” Other changes include introducing more short-term and customized programs, she says, which can provide new challenges because they can be labor intensive. Staff must conduct more placement testing, arrange onboarding and registration, and line up housing for incoming students. There can also be challenges for students who are applying for visas to study English in the United States. Some cases are coming under increased scrutiny from U.S. embassy staff, who may think that students can learn English at institutions in their home countries or online.“It’s hard to learn a language just through a machine. The cultural pieces are missing,” Juza says. “We’ve always had bipartisan support that English is a valid study.” The potential challenges of obtaining a visa have some students wondering if “they might not be as welcome as they used to be,” says Daniel Evans, director of English Language Programs at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont. He says a group of Chinese high school students were scheduled to come to St. Michael’s
for a short-term English program, but the trip was canceled when half of the students were denied visas.The students who do get visas and come to the United States to improve their English often have higher levels of English language proficiency, so lower-level programs may have a shortage of students.“The perception is that if you have stronger English skills, the chances of getting a visa are higher,” says John Binkley, associate dean of the Tseng College of Graduate, International and Midcareer Education at California State University-Northridge.

Pathway Programs’ Rising Popularity

Another major element in the new, changing landscape of English language programs is the increasing popularity of pathway programs, which allow students to study English while also taking general education classes or classes in their major and earning college credit in the process. This solution can reduce the length of time and amount of money students spend obtaining their college degrees.

Ohio University’s Program of Intensive English retooled its bridge program, which allowed students to take both English and academic classes and receive college credit. In the past, students could take any academic classes they wanted, and they sometimes took courses they didn’t need to take in order to graduate. The two sets of courses “almost operated in separate spheres,” says Gerard Krzic, director of Ohio University’s Ohio Program of Intensive English. Under the new University Success Pathway Program,which launched in the fall of 2017, students take set courses in subjects—such as biology, history, and music—that are required by the university. Students and their English as a second language (ESL) instructors attend the classes together, Krzic says, then meet to talk about the classes to ensure that the students understand the content and what is expected of them.“Instead of just sitting in the classes by themselves, [students] now have someone they can consult with,” Krzic adds. The University of Delaware recently launched its own pathway program, called Academic Transitions, designed by university faculty and administration specifically to meet the needs of those who come to the university, says Nadia Redman, assistant director of the Office of Recruitment, Marketing & Communications. The program is available to those who have been conditionally admitted to the university’s bachelor’s degree program, and students can earn up to 27 credits. Along with studying English, students take the classes they need to meet the requirements of the university or their major, together with elective classes in business, technology, or U.S. culture. The University of Delaware has also increased its international undergraduate admissions staff to help speed the admissions process along, Redman says.While schools such as Ohio University and the University of Delaware have launched their own pathway programs, others have partnered with for-profit institutions to develop such programs, says Szasz, who is also immediate past president of EnglishUSA. Some universities fear “academic integrity will be lost if they partner with a for-profit institution,” Szasz says. For others, partnerships with for-profit programs may bring expertise in curriculum design to help develop a pathway program, financial resources to help the universities build classrooms and dormitories, or provide a network of recruiters from around the world to attract international students to the program, she says.

Setting Themselves Apart

Given the current climate of declining enrollments, schools such as Pace University in New York have moved to “a buffet of different offerings” in order to build new revenue streams, says James Stakenburg, executive director of Pace’s English Language Institute. As student demand shifts away from general English courses, Pace and other schools have ramped up their experiential, short-term courses. Summer has traditionally been a slow time at Pace, says Stakenburg, but “this summer looks much, much, much better than previous years.” One summer program at Pace focuses on helping international high school students select the right college for their future studies. Through this preparation program, students gain instruction on how to write their college essays and prepare for the SAT exam, meet with Pace admissions counselors to learn more about the admissions process at U.S. universities, and visit several universities in New York and Boston. At the university level, students enrolled in Pace’s English PLUS Business program are given the opportunity to take business courses and business English classes, participate in a workshop on entrepreneurship, hear talks from New York business leaders, and visit companies in the financial district.“We create a well-rounded kind of experience,” Stakenburg says. Pace also offers classes to corporations, such as

English language training for specific industries and accent reduction training for executives. The school partners with an outside recruiting agency that sends Italian teens to Pace to study English and be immersed in the local culture.

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