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US English sector recovers 65-70% on 2019; Japan top source

A new EnglishUSA report – the first of its kind – confirms Japan has cemented itself as the number one source country for English language programs in the US, among other findings.

New York was the top state destination for students on English language programs, according to the report. Photo: Pexels

The report identified over 750 active English language programs in the US, with 289 responding

The report “complementing” IIE’s Open Doors reports on English language programs in the US has been released the country’s ELT association. 

It also reports that the global numbers as of 2022 had “recovered 65% to 70%” of 2019 levels. 

This inaugural data, according to EnglishUSA executive director Cheryl Delk-Le-Good, aims to “benchmark its global market share” in the English language programs industry against other destinations popular with students, including the UK and Australia.

“We are confident that our Annual Reports will not only help individual programs in data-driven decision-making, but the data will also assist the industry in its advocacy efforts,” she said upon the report’s release.

“We strive to capture the breadth and depth of student enrolments and demonstrate to stakeholders and policymakers how our industry contributes to the American economy and the internationalisation of our communities and campuses,” she added.

The report identified over 750 active English language programs in the US, with 289 responding to the survey.

In the US, Japan saw 12% of the student share, with 8,694 students from the country studying at schools across the US in 2022. 

However, when splitting students by provider, Japan topped the community college-governed providers and university-governed providers – but was only second in the fastest growing cohort – private providers. 

Some 5,911 students from France, second overall in the US, went to private providers, superseding Japan’s 4,977 students.

Speaking with The PIE, former president of EnglishUSA and head of member school ILI Massachussetts Caroline Gear said she was quite surprised at Japan’s fixation on the US for languages. 

“Honestly, I had no idea that Japan was the top source country in the US.

“Right now only 8% of our students are from Japan. We have always had a very diverse group of students and have never been able to pinpoint top source countries,” she noted. 

It’s not only France that’s gaining traction in the top 10 countries for private providers, but also other European nations, with Italy taking 8% of the share with 3,499 students and both Germany and Switzerland having 6% of the market share. 

Despite the seemingly large share of private providers in the market that is reported – 66% of students were at private providers – IIE has previously said trends were “shifting” in regards to Intensive English Programs, with all providers seeing an increase post-Covid.

“It’s possible that Europeans are looking for more flexible programs rather than a specific academic path,” Gear posited. 

“For example, the last few years we have been working with a minor league ice hockey team who brings hockey players to study in our Intensive English Program while they improve their skills in ice hockey,” she explained. 

Massachusetts, the state where ILI is located, was the fourth most popular destination on the list. New York, California and Florida were the top three, with New York seeing 16,636 students study ELPs at various providers in the state. 

In terms of the spread of English language programs in the US, Californian providers run the most, accounting for 16%. Florida provides 11%, New York 9% and Texas 6% – California had over 120 programs according to the research.

Visa refusals is the number one challenge that responding programs face, the report concluded. Some 67% deemed it an issue, while 50% also noted visa processing times a pressing problem. 

“It’s possible that Europeans are looking for more flexible programs”

“Most certainly, visa denials for language programs continue to be a challenge for our industry,” noted Gear.

The large majority of students are on F-1 visas – 62% – with 25% not requiring one due to being ESTA recipients, citizens, residents or asylum seekers.

The most affected student cohort with visa issues are typically Africans, with difficulties in terms of getting visa interviews and high visa denial rates, especially across higher education.

More encouraging finding are the economic impact of language students, reaching almost $800m among those responding to the research. The report projected that the number including programs that did not report to the survey would be over $1bn.

A question on preferred recruitment channels for the US saw 45% saying direct to provider recruitment was their number one method – agencies and aggregators were the preferred channel for a quarter of respondents. 

EnglishUSA also conducted research on the future interest markets in South America, due to the “region’s growing potential as a source of English language students”. 

On a score-based ranking, Brazil was first, with 1,696 points. Colombia, which has become increasingly important for Australia’s ELICOS sector, followed closely with 1,541, and Chile dropped slightly on points in third place with 1,055.

“Visa denials for language programs continue to be a challenge”

A 2019 EnglishUSA trade mission to Brazil and Colombia identified a potential market for US players, Gear explained.

“Students and agents were very interested in the diverse offerings of EnglishUSA members from private language schools to university based programs. 

“We hope to return to Brazil and Colombia as we all know it’s about building relationships,” Gear added.. 

Whether Brazilians will continue to choose the US over other popular destinations for them, such as Ireland, remains to be seen. Colombia, was fourth in the overall source country list, with Brazil close behind – they took 6% and 5% of the market share respectively.  

“I imagine that many Brazilians are choosing Ireland as they are allowed to work while studying, which is not the case in the US,” Gear added.

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