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USA: Catch-22 for new IEP operators

New players to the USA’s English language sector will find themselves in a catch-22 under new accreditation regulations, finding it hard to get accredited without exhibiting prior teaching history, but unable to issue I-20 visas for international students without being accredited.

The rule loophole has come to light following regulations that are now bedding in following a December 2013 deadline as part of the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act.

Stakeholders have voiced concerns and officials close to the process have confirmed that in order for an organisation to apply for access to Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and issue Forms I-20 to foreign students, schools must have been operating for two years as accredited providers.

“It’s a challenge, we have had some year-round schools in the last year or so that have been successful so it’s not impossible, but it certainly is complicated,” commented Bill Larkin, the Executive Director for the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET), one of two main accreditation organisations looking after IEP quality credentials.

“If you’re looking strictly at English language schools, then you have to be accredited in order to be eligible to be certified at this point”

To overcome the policy, providers are looking to local communities for students.

“They are starting with local populations, folks that already have green cards and who are in the states on other kinds of visas, doing short-term programmes or intensive four-week language programme for US students that are overseas,” commented Larkin.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is aware of the legislation hindrance but has no plans to change current requirements for new schools to apply for certification.

“You usually have to show you’re a bona fide school and you have to have been in operation in order to establish eligibility. If you’re looking strictly at English language schools, then you have to be accredited in order to be eligible to be certified at this point,” said Katie Westerlund, SEVP’s acting unit chief for school certification and policy.

“There are other folks in the US who may not be eligible for an F visa but who may be here on other types of visa and can study,” she added.

ACCET, along with the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA), were the national bodies charged with accrediting IEPs under the new legislation that was passed in 2010, with a deadline of 2011 to sign up for accreditation and a further two years to undergo the process.

Before the act was passed, CEA had 102 accredited sites and saw the number increase to 235 since 2011. Public commission reports from the organisation show that it denied accreditation to 25 institutions since the act was made law.

At ACCET, Larkin confirmed that around 15 groups were denied accreditation by his organisation,  “some of which have appealed but largely not been successful” he added.

ACCET saw its actual membership double while the total number of accredited campuses (one member can run multiple sites) rose from 227 to 286.

Mary Reeves, Associate Director of CEA, highlighted another “unintended consequence” of the new legislation: “CEA requires a site to be in operation for one year before it can be considered for eligibility and then the process itself can take another 18 months to two years to be complete.”

“In that time, the site can’t be certified to issue I-20s, so it has to have students who are non F-1’s such as tourists or immigrants,” she said.

“Programmes are delivering a curriculum to an identified student population that doesn’t reflect what they’re going to be doing the minute they get accredited, so it generates substantive changes.”

To try to reduce the affect of the situation, CEA has an Additional Branch Policy that allows sites that are fully accredited the right to apply to add another location as long as it can demonstrate that the new site is fully ready to operate but doesn’t require it to be teaching students.

“CEA didn’t cause the catch-22 and we can’t fix it but within the boundaries of our quality assurance practices we are trying to serve our constituents by providing this option,” commented Reeves.

 

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