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US intensive English saw 63% bounce in 2022

New data from IIE Open Doors has suggested that the US’s English language inbound program has finally begun to bounce back from a crippling pandemic.

IIE's Open Doors analysed the numbers going to both HEI affiliated and independent IEPs in 2022. Photo: Pexels

Europeans are generally going to the US for the shortest amount of time

In its latest survey of Intensive English Programs, the data suggests that in-person study is very much back in fashion, with the “vast majority of students” coming in-person in 2022.

Some 64,106 students were studying at 348 intensive English programs in the US during 2022, which Open Doors says reflects a 63% increase year-on-year.

Cheryl Delk-Le-Good, executive director at the country’s language school association EnglishUSA, told The PIE News at NAFSA 2023 that the rebound was a definite cause for “celebration”.

She also said schools will “need to keep working on” getting student numbers up, with the help of EnglishUSA and vital support from EducationUSA.

Despite the encouraging Open Doors data, the sector still has a long way to go to reach its peak 2015-16 levels, where over 133,000 students enrolled in IEPs in the US.

“One thing to keep in mind is that we had been seeing some declines even previous to Covid,” Mirka Martel, head of research, evaluation and learning at IIE, told The PIE in an exclusive interview.

Decline was said to be “stabilising” in 2020 after numbers fell 3.5% in 2019. The 2018 year had seen a reduction of some 10%.

“Of course, we also saw that decrease due to the Covid – but what we’re also now seeing is increases across all types of providers – not only independent providers, but also providers at UC or affiliated with the US higher education.

“That’s super exciting because it means that students are receiving all types of activity and really it marks a real turnaround from that Covid trend,” she continued.

However, what still seems to need some time to recover is the amount of student week enrolment across the US.

At its peak in 2015, the figure was 1,993,917, just shy of two million. Even in 2019, it was still over a million.

The latest figure is up on the 467,368 in 2021 by over 50%, with 669,705 student weeks in total, but rebounding to the high of two million in 2015 appears to be quite a long way away.

“We had been seeing some declines even previous to Covid”

According to Martel, while Asian students are returning to IEPs in droves, the European market’s bounce back is primarily being fuelled by those independent providers.

“[Independent courses] are usually shorter in duration, and they’re becoming more popular with the quicker rebounding markets in Europe,” Martel explained.

The data does indicate that Europeans are generally going to the US for the shortest amount of time. On average, they only stay for a program for seven weeks.

Meanwhile, Latin American and Caribbean students stay for 10 weeks, Asian students for 12, but students from across Africa and the Middle East stay for 17 weeks on average.

“The [programs] that are affiliated with the US HEIs are much more likely to be attracting Chinese or Japanese students, for example,” she noted.

Japanese students make up 16% of the total 64,000 students, taking the top spot in places of origin – and from 2021, their numbers are a meteoric rise of 104%.

France is the second biggest country in terms of place of origin, with just shy of 8% of the overall market share – and an 82% rise in 2021.

While it had a slight lull in US higher education interest in 2022, China’s student numbers on IEPs in the country are also rising. While only 22% higher than 2021, it is still sending almost 5,000 students for IEPs.

While the discussion around independent providers was a focus for Open Doors, it is important to note that 89% of IEPs in the US are still provided by HEIs.

“We are starting to see some of the difference between those that are affiliated with the US HEIs and those that are the individual providers – HEIs are not getting less popular – it’s more that the trends are shifting,” Martel noted.

Also noted in the report was the fact that over a quarter of those in IEPs in 2022 (27%) intended to study in the US after they’d finished their course – the vast majority of whom will need to be taking English tests to facilitate further study at universities.

This, Martel said, is where a new partnership with ETS comes in – wherein there will be a new focus on data sharing to better streamline the exams process.

“The US has sorely underutilised its capacity”

“We’re also exploring areas in which we can use further data analysis and really provide a service to the international higher education field regarding data trends and market trends.

“So for that reason, I think it will be a great opportunity for us to partner with ETS, to really look at what data they have, what data we have and how we can complement each other,” she said.

In an interview with The PIE, ETS senior vice president of global workskills Rohit Sharma told The PIE that the partnership expansion is taking its “current products, but just expanding our partnership to new markets”, through IIE’s reach.

“The academic capacity in the US of professors and lecturers and all of the support staff is much larger, but more importantly also the ecosystem capacity of housing and transportation is there too.

“The next three most popular countries are really at the brink of breaking at the seams. And the US has sorely under-utilised its capacity,” Sharma noted, citing IIE’s partnership as the best way forward to help both the general mobility to the US – and its own market value.

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