November 2011 issue

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US maintains momentum

While enrolments in the USA look stable, a change in government regulation is a cause for concern for fledgling operators. Jane Vernon Smith reports.

2010’s trend in student enrolments appears largely to have been maintained in 2011. Into University Partnerships at both the University of South Florida and Oregon State University recorded strong growth, notes Into’s Avery Waxman. The International Language Institute of Massachusetts (ILIM) enjoyed a similar upturn, while California ESL, a new school that opened in Los Angeles in 2010, also did well. “Our student enrolment numbers increased quickly and steadily throughout the year, and have continued to increase into 2011,” reports spokesperson, Alissa Olgun.

At Into, the rise was attributable to a number of factors, says Waxman, among them an increased demand for both undergraduate and graduate pathway programmes. At ILIM, on the other hand, Caroline Gear highlights an increase in government-sponsored students – both through the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and Fulbright scholars. As a pre-academic centre for the latter, she notes, it more than doubled the number of students working on academic skills before starting work at US universities.

The American Language and Culture Institute at California State University, San Marcos, has also been pleased to record a rise in student numbers, says Director, Dawn Schmid, following the introduction of greater diversity in its programme offerings in short-term language travel, teacher training and semester abroad, as well as intensive academic preparation. Meanwhile, the English Language Institute of Illinois State University achieved a small increase that was driven by growth in the number of students from China. This itself, notes spokesperson, Courtney Grose, can be attributed to a rise in interest in conditional admission.

Among those schools reporting increased enrolments, one common contributing factor is the rise in Saudi students. As in other markets, Saudi numbers rose at Geos, thanks to the King Abdullah Scholarship programme, and, according to Geos’s Rita Chen, Brazilian numbers also increased, “which is most likely due to a combination of the country’s rising prosperity and the increased ease in attaining student visas”, she observes. Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia have represented the top three nationalities attending Geos North American schools over the past year. However, she notes that Japanese numbers have been dropping of late, a fact she attributes to a combination of factors, including the country’s weakened economy, the recent earthquake and a general shift in attitudes towards studying abroad.

For newly established California ESL, Saudi students have been an important source of overseas students, and, for Olgun, the Saudi scholarships represent one of the three major factors shaping the US market over the past year. Another was the death of Osama Bin Laden, which, she comments, briefly resulted in a decrease in enquiries and enrolments, from fear of retaliation on US soil. Furthermore, the new rules whereby language schools must now hold national accreditation in order to apply for authorisation to offer the I-20s needed for F-1 (student) visas, are, as she highlights, creating a significant challenge for new and unaccredited schools.

Olgun points out that the accreditation process is very costly, and, at the same time, small schools need to be able to offer the F-1 visa in order to be able to save the money to apply for accreditation. “This new change in government regulations causes a large catch- 22 for new schools such as ours,” she says.

There remain negative aspects to the market in 2011, and economic recession is still felt to be affecting consumer decision-making. At Geos, for example, there is evidence that this is persuading more students to pursue higher degrees. As a result, the company has increased its focus on pathway programmes, Chen reveals.

Benefits of co-operation

Increasingly, US educators are joining forces to build international student numbers. As highlighted by Caroline Gear at the International Language Institute of Massachusetts (ILIM), there is a growing number – 19 at the latest count – of state consortia that are pooling resources for joint international marketing campaigns. Study Western Massachusetts, Education Kentucky and Study Missouri are three such groups that have started within the past couple of years.

Formed in 2010, Study Western Massachusetts currently has a membership of eight schools, of which ILIM was one of the founding members.

Consortium members span different types of educational institutions including public and private colleges and universities, community colleges, private high schools and an intensive English language training organisation, and part of the consortium’s remit is to facilitate partnerships between mainstream and international schools.

Already, members have benefited, says consortium president, Michelle Kowalsky, of Western New England University. Each has a school profile on the group website, which has been promoted to EducationUSA advisors, international counsellors and overseas embassies. More recently the consortium initiated a partnership with a China-based company that sends students to visit US higher education institutions. “This is a partnership we hope will continue in the future,” she states.

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International Language School of the YMCAs Quebec  
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Language Studies International  
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Jeffrey's Bay Language School  
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Babylon Idiomas  
International House - Sevilla CLIC  
Inturjoven Spanish Courses   
Malaca Instituto - Club Hispanico SL  

EF Language Colleges Ltd  

University of California San Diego  
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