A statement recently issued by the US Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has caused considerable confusion as to whether English language programmes run by universities and colleges need specific accreditation, leaving many at risk of not being able to recruit international students.
The Accreditation of English Language Programs Act was established into law in December 2010, requiring all English language training programmes to be accredited or have applied for accreditation by December 15, 2011. It was widely understood that combined programmes of study those under the governance of a college or university would be considered accredited under the institution’s national or regional accreditation.
However, the statement recently issued by SEVP states that combined training programmes will receive an out of cycle review. “An out of cycle review requires a school to submit evidence to SEVP within 30 days of service of the notice or be found to be out of compliance with SEVP requirements.” SEVP has stated that it will check with the university’s accrediting body if ESL programmes are covered in the accreditation. If SEVP believes that the ESL programmes are not adequately accredited, it will request that the ESL programme is removed.
In a joint statement, The American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) and the Consortium of University & College Intensive English Programs (UCIEP) have urged SEVP to clarify its memo. “The fact that the memo does not specify what evidence these programmes must submit in order not to be withdrawn from SEVP adds to the confusion,” said the statement. It adds that when the two bodies lobbied for the law, “The intention was to hold accountable unaccredited stand-alone Intensive English Programs (IEPs) and not those under the governance of a university or college that have been accredited by a regional accrediting agency recognised by the US Department of Education.”
The confusion has re-opened debates about whether all English language programmes should be accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (Accet) or the Commission of English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) as is required of stand-alone programmes.
Michael G. Milne, Founder and Director of Access International Business Institute, said the SEVP had exposed a loophole unforeseen by the legislators. “Stand alone institutions must go through accreditation, and university IEPs who are simply ‘accredited’ because the host institution is, can relax. The spirit of the law, as articulated by AAIEP, is that all IEPs must be accredited. For good reason. ESL professionals want to see quality instruction across the board.”
However, Karen Hurley, Director of the Intensive English Language Centre at California State University, praised the AAIEP and UCIEP stance. “University based IEPs follow the strict standards of the institutions that they report to and they are educationally legitimate programmes as mentioned in the memo. I agree that accreditation by CEA or Accet should be something that all combined English Training Programs should look into, but it should not be a requirement as it pertains to this law.”
At the time of writing, SEVP had not officially responded to the joint statement.