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Three Keys to Success in Intensive English Programs

The EvoLLLution | Three Keys to Success in Intensive English Programs
Defining an institutional model for intensive English programs and then working to create a first-rate experience for international students is critical for the success of IEPs.

By 2025, more than 8 million students will want to study outside of their home countries according to the OECD’s Education at a Glance—an increase of nearly 6 million students since 2000.

With that many international students expected to seek educational opportunities overseas, one could think attracting students to intensive English programs in the U.S. is easy. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. With increased interest comes increased competition. Not only are universities and IEPs getting better at marketing and recruiting international students, but students also have increased opportunities to study English in their home country, at private language schools or with universities that have opened overseas campuses.

  1. Choose a Model that Best Supports the University’s Goals

Intensive English programs come in many forms. Universities need to clearly articulate their motivation for expanding or building these programs before enrolling a single new IEP student. Reasons can vary, but generally, they fit into one of four categories:

  1. Increasing the university’s globalization perspectives to further enhance the educational experience for all students
  2. Improving the success of international students who are struggling to integrate in the classroom and the community
  3. Creating a new revenue stream to combat decreases in funding from state, federal or endowment sources
  4. Strengthening the university’s reputation in the global marketplace

Being able to define and agree on why your campus wants to increase its investment in intensive English programs will allow you to decide what type of program fits within your university culture.

Programs can be created fully within the university, completely outsourced to a company that offers English-language training before degree-seeking courses are available or developed through hybrid partnerships that offer English language, cultural and academic preparation courses. Oregon State University chose the third option—arguably the most challenging as it involves a shared vision working in collaboration with an outside organization. But as all four characteristics above were of significant importance to OSU’s leadership, that model fit best.

The results of this model transformation have been significant. In seven years, OSU’s international enrollments have grown 277 percent, and the IEP has played a significant role in that. While we used to serve approximately 200 students per year, with approximately 10 percent of those matriculating into OSU degree programs, those numbers have spiked. By winter term 2015, more than 350 students had matriculated into OSU degree programs from the 2013-2014 IEP cohort.

  1. Find Your Program Champions

Speaking of leadership, the second most important aspect of a competitive IEP is having the right groups of people leading and implementing the program. Successful programs will transform a university. Gather the right people, with a strong, influential university champion, and you can navigate each change with a single vision and thoughtful commitment.

Within these groups, you’ll need access to business and financial expertise, international education market knowledge, academic and student life specialists, university influencers and an implementation team that isn’t afraid to roll up its sleeves, ask the tough questions and get to work.

  1. Deliver an Outstanding Student Experience

At the core of any IEP program, the student experience—including the success of each student—is critical. It doesn’t matter how well steps one and two have gone if step three isn’t fully developed.

Many students interested in studying overseas first contact an education counselor in their home country for advice and guidance. It’s vital that these counselors know your programs, are well trained and work in partnership with the IEP. Admissions materials, specifically catering to international students, and a recruitment team on the ground in market are absolute musts in training and supporting these counselors. Parents and students rely on counselors, and universities would be wise to arm them with as much support as possible.

From the academic perspective, a successful student experience means offering a suite of programs that accommodate a variety of student interests and creating a direct, simple path to as many university degree programs as possible. The most successful programs offer:

  • Academic English language classes from absolute beginner to university levels
  • Clear paths to undergraduate and graduate programs that offer university credit-bearing courses in their first year
  • General English programs for students not seeking university degrees, but looking for an American university campus experience

It’s no longer sufficient to have an English-only IEP and a conditional admissions program. Students demand to be given the opportunity to earn credits and demonstrate that they have the academic and language skills needed, often a term or two before they have met university entry requirements. Further, support services spanning tutoring, learning centers, bridge classes, and staff dedicated to language, cultural and academic success are integral to your success.

Students expect to learn while having access to top facilities. Too often, IEPs are housed in outdated facilities away from the heart of campus. The message to students, who are paying top dollar, is that these programs are not a priority.

Ultimately, student pass rates, the number of students who matriculate to the university and their subsequent performance in degree-seeking programs will define your program’s success—from the university’s perspective.

For students, the final piece of the student experience—and the one that will define success in the eyes of your prospective alumni—is integration. International students want to experience the American lifestyle. Classrooms, housing and dining facilities separated from domestic students don’t support integration. Students in your intensive English programs expect to be in classes with Americans, expect to share the rec center and attend athletic events and expect to enjoy the same social and leadership opportunities as every other student on campus.

In many corners of the world, the American educational system remains the gold standard. To deprive international students the access to any area of university life is limiting the success you will have in recruiting future students to spend their college years on your campus.

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