A change in accreditation law in the US has left thousands of universities concerned about the future of their English programmes. However, the Department of Homeland Security has indicated to the Gazette a simple solution: a letter from accreditation agencies. Enacted in December 2010, the Accreditation of English Language Training Act requires all intensive English programmes (IEPs) to be accredited by a national or regional agency to enrol international students. IEPs are typically English courses leading to university entrance and often based on campus. However, they are not necessarily owned and operated by universities themselves.
Until April 2012 universities who ran their own IEPs were unaffected by the law as accreditation of the university was sufficient. But a message of ‘guidance’ circulated by the International Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP), a branch of Homeland Security (which includes immigration), stated that all IEPs ‘must either possess or have applied for accreditation before Dec 15, 2011, by a regional or national accrediting agency’, regardless of whether they are managed by a university. This is where the problems began. Regional and national accreditation bodies certify universities as a whole – not specific courses. SEVP began ‘out-of-cycle’ reviews and IEPs received notification that they had to provide documentation of their courses’ accreditation within ninety days. But administrators were at a loss for how to respond.
Bronwyn Jenkins-Deas, associate dean of international education programmes at University of California, Riverside, said her university, the largest recruiter of international students in the country, spent five months trying to properly satisfy SEVP’s requests. ‘We didn’t know where to turn,’ she told the Gazette. ‘It was right up to the wire, and I still don’t know if we are going to be successful. And if we are not, well, I can’t even say what will happen. We bring in more than 3,500 students to learn English each year.’
Associations such as the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) and University and College Intensive English Programs wrote letters and statements to SEVP, trying to find answers. But other than a confusing comment made by a Department of Homeland Security at an international education conference, they received no response. ‘It seems as if SEVP did not understand that regional accreditors do not accredit specific programmes,’ said Patricia Juza, AAIEP vice president for advocacy. ‘By not releasing a statement with a clear-cut answer, they have made thousands of [intensive] English programs vulnerable to closure.’
However, the Gazette received confirmation from officials at Homeland Security and three regional accreditation agencies that there is a solution: the accrediting body can submit a letter stating, ‘XYZ University is accredited by our accreditation agency.
The Intensive English Program at XYZ University is included within that accreditation.’ As for other ways to confirm the IEP is accredited, SEVP response team lead Cynthia
Alexander-Stokes told the Gazette, ‘We are still working it out.’