This week, we interview Caroline O’Neal, President of language school association EnglishUSA about the association’s activities and results of the recent survey of member schools.

What has EnglishUSA been up to over the past 12 months?

It has been a very exciting and busy year for us. Most notably we have welcomed a new Executive Director, Cheryl Delk-Le Good. We are so excited to have Cheryl leading our organisation. She is an industry professional with extensive experience working alongside important stakeholders for EnglishUSA.

We have grown our membership to now over 400 members. We have also seen the growth and development of our conferences and events. Our professional development conference is the largest of its kind and we see great representation across states, sectors of IEPs [Intensive English Programs], and roles within members. Our programing is designed to meet the needs of the whole IEP so we offer sessions and trainings for academics, directors, and student services coordinators.

Our Stakeholders event went into its second year with a growth in attendance as well as a strong line up of important industry leaders. We were able to welcome the President of Nafsa, the executive director of TESOL, the directors of ACCET and CEA, as well as representatives from SEVP, IIE, ICEF, our accrediting bodies, CEA and [global agency federation] FELCA. It was a fantastic opportunity for EnglishUSA to engage directly with other leaders from our industry.

You recently did a member survey on enrolment trends at US IEPs – did you uncover anything interesting?

This was our first extensive membership survey and it was a great success for us. We were able to present on this data at both TESOL and NAFSA. Besides allowing us to better understand the challenges and needs of our members, it gave us an opportunity to look at the greater landscape of intensive English programs in the US.

EnglishUSA represents a diverse group of programmes and we found that a majority of our members operate on the campuses of universities. We also saw from that 86 per cent of respondents had conditional admissions and/or articulation agreements with higher education institutions. For members, the survey also gave them insight on how fellow programmes are staffed and resourced. We were able to provide a breakdown of staffing by programme size and information on faculty staffing, and data on the curriculum and materials used in various programs

In addition to our membership survey, we also had interesting results from our annual survey on enrolment trends. Again, this year we found that many of our programmes reported the top nationalities being Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil and Korea.

However, this year, our surveys showed us that it was a challenging year for many of our members. Nearly 45 per cent of respondents mentioned that they had seen a decrease in enrolment from spring 2014 to spring 2015. We have been tracking member feedback on enrolment trends for a number of years and this was the first year since 2012 where members were reporting decreases in enrolment. 

How does English’s intend to further develop its relationship with SACM (Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission)?

We were very fortunate to have a long-standing relationship with SACM. We have been very fortunate to have had SACM attend our events and help our members in their support of sponsored students. We intend to continue this collaboration. 

How are member schools currently feeling towards the SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program)? Are their questions and frustrations being addressed adequately?

SEVP presents at every major EnglishUSA event including Stakeholders, our Professional Development Conference (PDC), and with us at NAFSA. Our advocacy team and SEVP have seen an increase in communication over the past few years. We were extremely pleased that SEVP attended our Stakeholders event in DC and were able to not only present but attend and engage with members regarding their questions and feedback. These events are critical for members to ask questions directly to SEVP regarding policies and guidance. Feedback from members is consistently positive with this regard.

Due to the nature of the issues there are times where members have to wait a long time in order to receive guidance and we know this can be stressful for our members. For example, we have been reporting issues regarding difficulties in regards to accredited schools adding branch campuses to SEVP for nearly a year. While we greatly appreciate that SEVP has indicated a willingness to look into the matter, the delays in follow up has had real negative impacts on the ability for some of our member schools to do business.

Does EnglishUSA have anything new/different planned for the PDC in January?

The biggest news for our PDC is that we have moved location! This year’s event will be in Monterey, California at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies from January 21-22. We are very excited to take the event to a new venue. Monterey is a beautiful venue on the coast of California.

This is a full version of the interview that appears in the October 2015 issue of StudyTravel Magazine.  

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