Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

Key policy issues afoot for US ESL providers

In the US, as in all English-speaking destination countries, Intensive English Programmes (IEPs) are often the first point of entry for international students coming to study. They range in nature and duration, providing everything from pre-degree academic English or subject-specific English to general English training lasting from one week to several months. And, they are important internationalisation hubs in higher education communities across the country. As of March 2013, 99,328 international students – 11% of the students on active F-1 or M-1 visas in the US – were studying at American IEPs. In the following feature interview with ICEF Monitor, Kathryn Kohut, Executive Director of English USA, reports on trends in this important sector of the US higher education landscape as well as policy developments in three areas agents should be aware of:

  1. The Accreditation of English Language Programs Act;
  2. Conditional admissions and bridge programme procedures;
  3. Annual vacation policy.

After the videos, we provide new data from the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) that shows a slight decline in international students from the previous quarter, and which indicates top countries of origin and most popular courses of study. Additionally, we have included Ms Kohut's slides from a recent presentation she gave at the ICEF Miami Workshop.

ESL in the US

Ms Kohut recaps the following key facts about the IEP sector in the US:

  • Programmes are delivered by colleges and universities as well as stand-alone institutions (private or not-for-profit);
  • Students come to the programmes - which are full-time – on non-immigrant F-1 visas;
  • Open Doors data shows that IEP enrolment grew by 3% from 2012 to 2013;
  • English USA has 350 member IEPs, and they estimate that there are 500 operating in the country right now;
  • Saudi Arabia is the largest source market for IEPs (with 42% growth in 2012) with China not far behind (27% growth). South Korea, Japan, and Brazil round out the top five countries of origin for IEPs.

As the sector grows and its importance becomes even more apparent to the overall shape of higher education, governmental policy is growing around it to ensure quality assurance and to protect students. In the following series of three videos, Ms Kohut speaks about some of the most pressing policy developments affecting the sector, and what these mean to agents and providers alike.

IEP accreditation

In December of 2011, the Obama government introduced policy (The Accreditation of English Language Programs Act) that would require IEPs to obtain accreditation within two years to be able to continue operating. That two-year timeframe is now over, and at this point, the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) has confirmed that they have completed the accreditation process for all programmes that applied for accreditation by the deadline. There are a few IEP programmes that met the deadline but are still being evaluated - SEVP has said that will not take any adverse action against these, and will wait for the process to play out. Below, Ms Kohut explains the implications of the process. These include the fact that some programmes were denied accreditation and can thus not continue to accept students, as well as that it is now very difficult for a new IEP to enter the market because of the rules of the Accreditation Act.

Conditional admissions and bridge programme I-20 procedures

This policy area, Ms Kohut explains, pertains exclusively to the college/university sector (not to private and/or standalone IEPs), and it has to do with which area of a university is authorised to issue I-20s for bridge programmes. (The I-20 is also called the "Certificate of Eligibility" because with it, a student is "eligible" to apply for an F-1 student visa at a US embassy or consulate abroad.) Currently, it’s not required that I-20s be issued directly from a university or college’s English department, but SEVP draft policy indicates that this may change. It may be that going forward, an I-20 will be issued first from the English department and then transfer to the eventual university/college programme once the student has been formally admitted to the programme. SEVP has been receptive to feedback from English USA and other stakeholders on this matter, and is currently working through it to arrive at a final policy by autumn of this year.

Vacation policy in the IEP sector

Ms Kohut explains in this final video segment that it has been challenging for SEVP to determine the amount of consecutive study time an international student must complete in an IEP to be permitted vacation because the IEP sector differs so much in its study structure from traditional academic programmes. IEP programmes are rolling (i.e., students join at different times of the year), full-time, and varying in duration – a combination that is very different from the academic calendar at a traditional university. Initial SEVP draft policy was looking at 26 weeks of consecutive study at an IEP for a student to be able to take vacation – based on the traditional academic calendar – but Ms Kohut notes how difficult such a full-time period of study would be for many IEP students to complete. SEVP has again accepted feedback and is currently reviewing it. Final guidance on this policy issue may not come for a few months.

Overall SEVP data shows a slight decline in long-term international students

Turning finally to the US international education sector as a whole, the Department of Homeland Security has released quarterly data from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) showing a slight drop in the number of long-term students on F-1, J-1, and M-1 visas. The number of active students in F-1 and M-1 combined fell by 2.6% since October 2013, and there was an identical drop of 2.6% in the J-1 visa class. As a refresher, these are the descriptions of the visa classes:

  • F-1 non-immigrant students: Students coming to the US to pursue a full course of academic study in SEVP-approved schools;
  • M-1 non-immigrant students: Students coming to the US to study at SEVP-certified vocational or other recognised non-academic institutions (other than in language programmes);
  • J-1 exchange visitors: Non-immigrants approved to participate in work-and-study-based exchange visitor programmes.

Asia is clearly the predominant source continent, providing 740,520 students, with China alone accounting for 287,260. China contributes 29% of international students, while India is next with almost 11%. In terms of level of study, Bachelor’s degrees are the most popular, with 333,664 international students. Next are Master’s with 257,020 international students, then:

  • Doctorate: 131,262;
  • Language training: 90,476;
  • Associate’s: 73,652;
  • Secondary: 50,526.

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