Overall, 86,786 students were enrolled in an Intensive English Program in the US, for a total of 1,226,151 student weeks in 2017 – this compares to 108,443 students and 1,530,817 student weeks in 2016, a decrease of 20% for both figures.
The downward trend builds on a decrease in both student numbers and student weeks of about 19% and 23% respectively from 2015.
The amount of time IEP students spend in the US doesn’t seem to have changed, with the average student weeks figure unvaried at about 14.1 weeks.
The sharpest declines came from Saudi Arabia, which was the top-sending place of origin for IEP students from 2010 to 2015 – the numbers fell by 45% between 2015 and 2016 and 46% between 2016 and 2017.
The flow of students from Mexico, which grew about 40% between 2015 and 2016, sharply fell by almost 60% between 2016 and 2017.
“The drop in enrolment is driven by changes in foreign government-funded scholarship programs”
China is still the top sending country with 19,756 students, but enrolments have also declined for the past two years – although the decrease has slowed down, from 16% between 2015/2016 and 7% between 2016/2017.
The sector is composed of higher education institutions and independent providers offering English language courses – as IIE adds, these courses are one way for international students to initiate their education in the US.
In 2017, about half of the students enrolled in an IEP intended to further their studies in the US upon completion of the program.
Changes in IEP enrolments are dependent on a variety of factors, but both IIEP and EnglishUSA explained that the sharpest declines can be attributable to changes in foreign government-funded scholarships.
Declines in enrolments from Saudi Arabia, for example, can be traced back to changes in the country’s government scholarship program.
“Over the past two years, we have seen a decline in intensive English program enrollment numbers in the US.
“The drop in enrolment is driven by changes in foreign government-funded scholarship programs,” IIE research specialist Julie Baer told The PIE News.
“The most recent data shows that enrolment numbers can grow despite these circumstances”
Executive director at EnglishUSA Cheryl Delk Le Good told The PIE that the association’s members have reported decreases in student numbers overall and from particular countries as reflected in the IIE figures.
She also indicated that the decrease in government-sponsored students is one of the reasons behind the decline. But she added there are other trends to keep in mind.
“Fewer students are coming to the US to study at the lower levels in intensive English programs,” she explained.
“There is also greater competition cost-wise with language programs in their own countries and/or those nearby.”
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. As evidenced by the data, Brazil’s enrolments have grown by 11% after two years of a consecutive drop.
“The most recent data shows that enrolment numbers can grow despite these circumstances,” Baer explained.
“After Brazil suspended new applications for the Scientific Mobility Program in 2015, Brazilian IEP enrollments dropped for the next two consecutive years.”
But in 2017, said Baer, Brazilian enrollments in IEP programs grew by 11%, suggesting a rebounding of student interest.
Delk Le Good added that EnglishUSA will continue to help its members take charge of the challenges the industry is facing.
“Our two annual conferences continue to provide support and professional development spanning across all areas of programming,” she said.
“We have also attended to membership needs through our monthly 2018 webinar series with member programs and associates sharing their expertise on a variety of topics that are helping our members take charge of the challenges the industry is facing.”
Data from Student Exchange and Visitor Information System – which tracks the flow of students on F and M visas – reflects the IIE figures, with the majority of regions showing a decline in the number of students travelling to the US for language training.