No international educators would deny the importance of Intensive English Program/English support courses to their international students on campus. However, it does not always compute well with higher education upper administration – especially when institutions pursue a business like management model.
IEPs in this still decreasing trend (IIE, 2020) have raised concerns that they may be the next candidates for the chopping block.
In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic and school closures that started in March have increased concerns. Under such pressures and unpredictable circumstances, how are IEPs planning for fall and the future?
Traditional Face-to-Face (F2F) instruction
Programs that have initial I-20 students arriving on campuses are offering F2F instruction or, at least, hybrid instruction. Some programs have adopted a unique approach, securing computer labs/classrooms, where students will log on to their learning management systems while instructors stay home and teach remotely. This satisfies “on campus” learning while maintaining social distance/safety options for faculty who have health risks.
Combination of F2F, Hybrid, and Online
Some programs have made decisions to fully offer online courses for non-F1 students and continuing F1 students while offering hybrid options for initial F1 students. Others have opted to start instruction with hybrid courses and gradually shift to fully online as the term progresses.
Temporary Suspension of IEP
Some programs have made this hard decision for fall. Institutions that house 3rd party IEPs face this issue as well – when IEPs freeze their offerings, the enrollment into institutions will be affected. The newest IEP Open Door Data by IIE (2020) indicates that 49% of IEP students plan to continue their degree studies in the U.S. In addition, we know, anecdotally, that IEP students are likely to continue their degree programs at the same institution as their IEPs. However small the IEPs look to HE administration, eliminating/not-offering IEPs will have significant drawbacks to the institutions’ enrollments.
For IEPs, no matter what model they have adopted for fall, the decisions were not easy at all. Original SEVP July guidance caused a panic among us as it looked as if we would have to teach at least 18 contact hours in person. Like all our international educator colleagues, we celebrated the rescission of that guidance. However, coming to the model wasn’t easy - How would the new March guidance affect IEPs? While many IEPs do not have their own I-17 or DSOs on staff, International Student Services colleagues’ help and collaboration was needed more than ever.
IEPs are not always housed in the same unit as international student and scholar services. Some are under an academic department. Some are under continuing education. Some may be under an administrative unit or even a provost’s office. Not every IEP has a NAFSA advisor’s manual or knows the regulations as well as DSOs.
When English programming for international students, IEPs need the assistance of DSOs.
According to the Webinar by IIE, EnglishUSA, and University and College Intensive English Program (UCIEP) on August 20, 2020, the majority of programs are experiencing a 50-75% decrease in enrollment in Fall 2020. Expectations are that these programs will have from 1 to 30 students.
The declining enrollment numbers are partially due to SACM scholarship restructuring and Brazil government scholarship’s secession in general and the pandemic that prevented timely visa issuance and concerns for travel to the U.S. among students and their parents. However, there are some trends worth paying close attention to:
The IEP’s top places of origin remain similar to the past few years. However, when looking at average IEP weeks by places of origin, we see each country’s preference and potential recruitment hints.
The table above indicates that students in each country listed have certain preferences for average weeks of IEPs. This means if IEPs want to target more diverse students, they may have to come up with more flexible programming – fewer IEP weeks (8-10 weeks compared to semester 15-16 weeks), midterm entry, or flexible week options. This process certainly involves I-17 certification, and therefore, institutional strategies are required. However, staying only with one type of offering may hurt overall enrollment as not all the students wishing to study in a U.S. IEP can or want to come for a longer study period.
Recently, IEI conducted a membership survey, including questions regarding IEPs and ESL support programs. One of the challenges from that survey is recruitment for IEPs. IEP recruitment seems to be a part of admissions’ office recruitment strategies, and lack of sufficient funds for IEP specific recruitment is a significant challenge. Sometimes within the same institutions, IEPs and international recruitments can be a competition – while IEPs need to secure their numbers, institutions may want to admit the same students into their degree programs.
Is there any solution?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution to fix all challenges we’re facing. However, there are some steps that each IEP can take to stay afloat and keep serving our students even though staying afloat means doing more than traditional IEP programming:
Where can I get more help?
Besides IEI and NAFSA, TESOL, EnglishUSA, and UCIEP offer resources for IEPs. If you do not have an IEP on campus, please feel free to contact IEI’s IEP representative. Also, NIEP is a consortium consisting of Illinois IEPs and English services’ directors. NIEP is where the program directors meet and share trends, challenges, and ideas about English support services and help each other grow professionally. If your institution has an IEP, but it is not yet a part of NIEP, please encourage them to contact IEI’s IEP representative.
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