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US IEPs anticipate further enrolment drops in 2016

Falling enrolments and a pessimistic outlook for the year ahead among English USA’s membership of Intensive English Programs has prompted the organisation to overhaul its strategy, including plans to take on new administrative staff and bolster its support for members aiming to increase recruitment.

Around 80% of IEPs that responded to English USA's survey reported a drop in enrolments in spring 2016 compared to last year.

Just over 60% of respondents predicted their enrolments will be lower this summer than last summer

In a survey of its members, nearly 80% of the IEPs that responded reported seeing a decline in their 2016 spring enrolments compared to the year before. Only 10% said their enrolments rose in the same period.

“Our priorities are a stronger infrastructure, better data, data management and making sure that we serve our members with assistance with recruitment”

The results of this year’s survey are radically different to in 2014, when around 25% of schools reported a drop in springtime enrolments and 45% reported an increase.

The survey showed members are pessimistic about their enrolments for the upcoming months: just over 60% of respondents predicted their enrolments will be lower this summer than last summer, and more than half said they anticipate seeing a drop in their autumn enrolments.

The number of schools predicting a year-on-year drop in summer and autumn enrolments has increased by some margin compared to in 2015.

Reasons given by members for the drop include events in source countries contributing to a decline in government-sponsored students, along with the global economic crisis and the relative expense of the dollar compared to other currencies.

In particular, falling oil prices and the dialling-back of Saudi Arabia’s KASP scholarship programme are a particular area of concern, according to English USA’s executive director, Cheryl Delk-Le Good.

Saudi Arabia was the top source country across responding countries, followed by China, South Korea, Japan and Brazil. Saudi students were also the biggest pool of state-sponsored students in 2016, with 95% of programmes saying they had some enrolled.

Many schools that were heavily reliant on Saudi students – some with as much as 30%-50% of their student intake made up of Saudis – have been hit hard by the reductions, Delk-Le Good said.

However, she noted that some schools have seen an increase in students from scholarship programmes in other countries, including Kuwait.

Around 40% of the responding IEPs had sponsored students from Kuwait, with others receiving students funded by governments in Oman, the UAE and Iraq, as well as by the Fulbright Program.

Diversifying student recruitment markets has therefore been a key part of schools’ strategies to head off declines in enrolments, along with initiatives to boost retention.

Some schools have also worked to cultivate shorter-term and seasonal programmes, and to restructure their curricula to allow them to appeal to different markets.

“We announced it at our business meeting and people are excited and very supportive because I need the help”

In light of member concerns over recruitment, English USA is developing a strategy that includes investing in an association management company to offer administrative and event support, to free up Delk-Le Good to focus on what she calls the “big picture”.

“Our priorities are a stronger infrastructure, better data, data management and making sure that we serve our members with assistance with recruitment, even though it might only be at the level of sharing best practices,” she explained.

The association will also direct more resources to developing its website and listserv, along with new webinars to support members that aren’t able to travel to its events.

“The size of the country causes us challenges so we are looking forward to that,” she commented.

Delk-Le Good was unable to disclose the amount of funding being put into the project, but described it as “a pretty significant investment”.

“We announced it at our business meeting [recently] and people are excited and very supportive because I need the help,” she said.

English USA represents 458 IEPs across the US. Of the members that responded to the survey, 70% are university or college-governed; 13% are standalone; 9% are through a university or college-based partnership; and 8% are multi-site programmes.

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