Published on 2014/04/28

English Language Programs and International Student Recruitment

English Language Programs and International Student Recruitment
International English language programs can provide institutions with new pathways to enroll the growing numbers of international students looking to earn a degree from an American institution.
The teaching of English in a systematic fashion began with Berlitz in 1890 and, within a decade, there were Berlitz Schools in 16 European countries, and then offshoots (instructors mostly) of Berlitz started their own schools. Universities’ extension units began offering English as a Foreign Language programs, such as Columbia University Extension in 1911. Standalone English language teaching divisions came into existence around 1941, initially providing instruction to graduate students and professionals. Canadian universities (such as the University of New Brunswick and Queen’s University) also began offering these courses in the 1940s.

More proprietary schools — which offered English education as a business — were created in both the United Kingdom and the United States in the 1950s and in Canada in the 1960s. Industry associations, such as the American Association of Intensive English Programs and the University and College Intensive English Programs, started to appear in the 1960s to develop common standards and a level of professionalism. Lastly, the Commission on English Language Accreditation (CEA) was formed in 1999 as a specialized accrediting agency “for improving the quality of English language teaching and administration through accepted standards.”[1]

Today, there are thousands of English language programs throughout the world of varying quality and size. The globalization of our economy brings new opportunities for enrollments and programs. Higher education institutions seeking to attract non-native English speaking international students find that having an established intensive English program (IEP) is an excellent way to recruit and nurture students interested in enrolling in academic programs.

Students attending IEPs are in class for a minimum of 18 hours per week and usually longer. Students can attend for short periods of time, but most attend for at least a semester, if not more (that is, four weeks or up to 18 months). Consequently, instructors get to know the students well and the daily contact provides a powerful evaluative tool regarding the prognosis of the students for academic work. Unless they are subject matter experts, instructors cannot know how well a student will do in his or her discipline. However, good student behaviors — diligence, perseverance, critical thinking, motivation, attitude, timeliness, meeting deadlines, work ethic and commitment — are indicators of academic success.

Generally, IEP administrators work closely with university admission officers and graduate departments regarding the progress students are making in the language program. Some students are conditionally admitted to academic programs on main campus subject to meeting proficiency standards. Others come early (usually in the summers) for a pre-academic program whereupon research skills are refreshed. Students who have spent time in the IEP with the intent to matriculate into the same institution for their academic program are able to acculturate and adapt to the institutional setting whilst in the IEP. They are able to meet with faculty and academic advisors before the start of term. Therefore, when they begin their academic program, they have taken care of their logistical and personal needs and are ready to ‘hit the ground running.’

The size of the IEP varies dramatically across the country. Large programs such as that of San Diego State University have 1,000 students or more. Mid-size programs such as at the University of Delaware range from 500 to 600 students. At Syracuse University, the program is smaller, with around 150 students. Irrespective of the size, the universities hosting these programs find them to be an asset serving the recruitment pipeline, supporting retention and generating revenue.

Continuing education is not the only unit that hosts IEPs. These programs can also be situated in English departments or linguistics/language departments — usually in colleges of arts and sciences — under the umbrella of international programs or sometimes in the student affairs portfolio.

Finally, there are some non-outsourced approaches to IEP. For example, Berlitz-owned English Language Services (ELS) has university- and community college-based centers as well as various centers serving regions and localities. IEP students have access to those facilities and ELS has articulation agreements with the institutions. Another arrangement is found in pathway programs with companies such as Navitas (see UMass-Boston) or INTO (see University of Oregon or University of South Florida) that work in concert with the host institution to recruit international students into intensive English courses as well as academic courses providing a two- to three-semester experience which can be equivalent to one year of a bachelor’s degree (if the student is deemed academically eligible and subject to the student’s initial English proficiency). These partnerships are generally contractual agreements that require long-term investment and commitments.

Ultimately, IEPs support the development of new and highly lucrative enrollment streams for institutions looking to access new student marketplaces.

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[1] “About CEA,” Commission on English Language Program Accreditation. Accessed at

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Readers Comments

Curtis Keller 2014/04/28 at 11:41 am

Good introduction into the IEP world. De Berly is right to identify it as a potential enrollment target for main campus programming. In order to streamline the process of moving from IEP into another (degree) program, IEP units would do well to work closely with other units/departments to ensure their programming is complementary.

For example, the focus of an English language course could be field-specific terminology to prepare English language students to enter a specific program track.

Karen 2014/04/28 at 12:41 pm

Curtis makes an excellent point about field specific terminology. I’m currently in Vancouver, Canada and many professionals have learned either “survival English” or “textbook English”, but most have missed out on business or industry language. This keeps them out of the job market.

prof 2014/04/28 at 2:35 pm

I have mixed feelings about using IEPs as a new enrollment stream. The issue I have is that unscrupulous institutions could use the promise of enrollment in degree-granting programs as a way to attract international students to their IEPs. It’s unclear if, once they arrived, there would be support to get them through the IEP and into a degree track.

If there were measures in place to prevent degree-granting programs from directly enrolling students who came out of the institution’s IEP, they could perhaps address the issue of unethical institutions exploiting international students as a new revenue stream.

Geraldine de Berly 2014/05/05 at 10:55 am

English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses are English language courses using discipline specific work. In the USA, you can find these as English for Business, Executive English, English for Engineering, Legal English, English for Technology, English for Medicine, etc.. By and large British publishers have been the leaders in this market. Certainly for students whose need to improve English is a tool by which they can access their academic or professional programs, ESP is a great motivator.

It is because so many working and administering IEPs are concerned about ethics and standards that the professional organizations and CEA mentioned in the article were created. Conditional admissions offered to international students are normally offered to students who are academically eligible to be admitted to the institution but are in need of additional English proficiency. Institutions set their admission criteria (standardized academic test scores, GPA, standardized English test scores, portfolios, interviews, personal statements etc.). International students attending institutionally based IEPs get to know the institution, can meet with admissions officers, faculty, and advisors prior to admission. The IEP can provide recommendations including a student’s linguistic strengths and weaknesses. It can speak to a student’s perseverance, motivation, diligence, and provide a prognosis as to likelihood of success given the behaviors demonstrated while in the intensive program. If the IEP recommends students who are clearly not prepared for academic work, then the IEP stands to lose the respect and credibility given it by campus colleagues. That would not be in anyone’s interest and least of all the IEP.

The many IEP directors that I am personally familiar with value highly the reputations of their IEPs and are most concerned that the students in their programs who are in the ‘pipeline’ to enroll in the university are properly prepared. Not all students attending IEPs are able to enroll in the ‘host’ institution. In keeping with best practice, the majority of IEPs clearly state in their documentation that admission to the IEP does NOT constitute admission to the university.

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