What is going on with Intensive English Programs (IEPs)? International Educators who do not work with IEPs may wonder about their current trends in the U.S. Have IEPs been experiencing growth? The answer is, unfortunately, no, for many programs.
Current State of IEPs
Some may be under the impression that the sharp increase of IEP enrollment that happened between 2008 and 2015 have continued. Indeed, IEPs enjoyed rapid growth in enrollment when a much greater number of undergraduate Chinese students started coming to U.S. institutions along with other groups (e.g. SACM students) compared to previous years. However, since 2015/16, the number is steadily declining as you can see in the following data.
IIE (2019). Intensive English Programs: Industry, Enrollment, and Market Trends. Presentation at NAFSA Annual Conference. May 30, 2019. Retrieved from EnglishUSA Forum. (www.englishusa.org)
Contributing factors to IEPs’ negative enrollment trend
What happened in the IEP field? Here are some recent events that have affected IEPs (EnglishUSA, IIE, and US Department of Commerce, 2019):
It is very important to be aware that “English programs have always been vulnerable to enrollment declines because language study can be seen as discretionary” (Fischer, 2019). Therefore, students who want to learn English language only or complete short-term special programs have sought other places to study English – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and even Southeast Asian countries (Singapore, Malaysia, etc.). For degree seeking students, IEPs are seen as “extra time/cost”, and therefore, to be avoided. The SEVP policy change in 2016 making conditionally admitted students receive IEP I-20s, and conditionally admitted students need to complete their language studies prior to taking any university level courses. This made some students stay home to satisfy English proficiency requirements prior to arrival to institutions or seek institutions whose language requirement is lower. Meanwhile, some students reported that they were told that they should study English in their home countries, not in IEPs in the U.S.
Furthermore, a joint presentation by EnglishUSA and IIE, provided the following trend observed in IEPs at NAFSA Annual Conference in 2019:
IEPs are required to come up with alternative programming – multilevel classes (omitting certain levels/combining levels), in-house pathway program development or working with a 3rdparty pathway program, and developing more short-term and/or online programs while facing declining students, budget cuts, and threat of mergers, acquisitions, or closures.
Is this negative enrollment trend continuing? According to EnglishUSA Executive director Cheryl Delk-Le Good, “We are hopeful that the decline has stabilized. Programs continue to seek ways to make their offerings attractive to prospective students” (Delk-Le Good cited in Civinini, 2019). IEPs certainly hope there would be no more decline and be able to continue our services to students.
There are some professional organizations that you may want to check out if you would like to stay current in the trend of IEPs. TESOL International Association (https://www.tesol.org/) is equivalent to NAFSA in International Education. Illinois TESOL and Bilingual Education (ITBE http://www.itbe.org) is the affiliate Illinois state organization of TESOL. While TESOL and ITBE are individual member-based organizations, EnglishUSA (https://www.englishusa.org/),“the only organization in the United States that includes all types of intensive English programs (IEPs)” (EnglishUSA) is a membership–based organization that provides program advocacy and resources for IEPs. If you are interested in accreditation of IEPs, CEA (The Commission on English Language Accreditation https://cea-accredit.org/) and ACCET (https://accet.org) are the organizations that accredit IEP programs.
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