Published on 2016/03/31

Creating Pathways to Matriculation Critical for Successful Intensive English Language Programs

The EvoLLLution | Creating Pathways to Matriculation Critical for Successful Intensive English Language Programs
Intensive English Language Programs that lead directly to formal degree programs can provide a great deal of value to both international students and to the institutions that offer them.

International enrollments are critical for colleges and universities across the United States, especially those that are financially challenged and looking to succeed in new and lucrative markets. However, the biggest hurdle for many institutions to cross is ensuring international students are academically prepared to succeed in full-time degree programs, which has given rise to investment in Intensive English Language Programs (IELPs) and other types of pathway programs. In this interview, Rob Jansen reflects on the value of the global pathway program marketplace and shares his thoughts on what institutions can do to make sure they stand out in this competitive space.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How big is the pathway program marketplace today and how much is it expected to grow over the next 5 years?

Rob Jansen (RJ): The pathway program marketplace is challenging to define. In our joint research with Cambridge English we made a conservative estimate of $825 million (US), where we were only looking at tuition fees of undergraduate pathways. However, many corporate pathway providers receive additional income from their partner universities through succession fees once the student progresses towards the bachelor program, and eventually finishes their degree. If we combine this additional revenue stream, and also include postgraduate pathways and accommodation revenue, the market size becomes much larger than our estimation.

We expect the market to grow looking from the perspective of number of courses offered. This is partly due to the fact that over the last years we’ve seen more institutes entering the pathway market, increasing the competition, which will lead to more diversification in the course portfolio from pathway providers. Due to many factors such as visa policies, willingness of universities to invest in the pathway route and consolidation, it’s difficult to predict the growth in monetary terms. Possibilities for growth can still be found in the United States, continental Europe, as well as offering pathway programs in students’ home countries (e.g. China).

Evo: How central is language instruction to pathway programs?

RJ: It’s surely a key component of any pathway program, since most of the students will directly increase their chances of successfully completing the degree program afterwards. However, for postgraduate pathways (pre-masters) a higher percentage of students will already have the right skill level in the language of instruction, and therefore there are many postgraduate pathway programs that don’t have a language component and fully focus on the combination of cultural acclimatization and content remediation. For undergraduate pathways, this is less the case. However, a student who already has a higher level of language skills might increase their chances to directly continue to year two of the bachelor program after completing the foundation year.

Evo: For universities, especially those in the US, how valuable are pathway programs compared to other, non-credit ESL programming aimed at international students?

RJ: Pathway programs come in different forms and shapes. Depending on which pathway program, and thus pathway provider, a student chooses, pathway program students can enjoy a number of advantages over a “normal” ESL course or summer camp, including:

  • Attend modules related to a specific discipline (e.g. engineering, business, etc.)
  • Being educated by university staff (for the academic content)
  • Intense support from a mentor (e.g. strong focus on attendance level)
  • Center located on university campus, sometimes with possibility of using university facilities (e.g. library, sport facilities, etc.)
  • Increased chances of matriculating into a degree program (resulting from partnerships with universities, or the pathway provider being the university itself)

Evo: Why should US universities be more focused on growing their pathway programming instead of other non-credit language programming that does not lead into degree pathways?

RJ: From a student perspective it makes sense that once a student has decided what they want to study at a university, they will want to be as prepared as possible. Further, based on the specificity of student demand when it comes to their topic of study, they will likely appreciate any preparation to be as tailored as possible to match the interest (either in terms of discipline, university, or even a specific bachelor degree program).

The moment a prospective international student finds out they don’t have the right language and/or academic skills to get access to university education, it’s critical to offer them the best solution possible to ensure they can fulfill their dream of a better future.

From the perspective of the college or university, you will increase your revenue if you can meet these requests of these ever-more demanding students. You will stand out from competitors that only offer non-credit language programs, which is becoming a more commoditized offer. Moreover, it will further increase your number of international enrolments since students have already experienced your academic staff during their pathway program, becoming more familiar with your university because of the communication intensity, and will be less likely to continue their degree program at a competitor. If a US partner university partners up with a corporate pathway provider, implementing succession fees for progression to a degree program and even successfully completing such programs, will incentivize such partners to ensure the students succeed in their university preparation, which will have an additional positive effect on international enrolments.

Lastly, we see more corporate pathway providers helping out their partner universities with their direct recruitment of their degree programs as well. This enables a US partner university to leverage such pathway provider’s agent network and their knowledge on (online) international student recruitment.

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Key Takeaways

  • Offering IELPs that allow institutions to matriculate students into full-time degree programs can be rich revenue streams for colleges and universities.
  • International students, for the most part, know what they want when it comes to higher education and institutions that can help them achieve their specific goals will be successful in the long term.
  • A formal pathway-focused IELP provides more value for students than one-off ESL programs or language summer camps.