English as a Second Language Programs Feeling the Pain

For the first time in many years the US international education sector is seeing its first signs of slowed growth, English as a Second Language programs are feeling the pain and seeing drastic drops in the number of students enrolling in their programs. EnglishUSA recently released the findings from a flash survey of their member institutions.  In the survey, 70% saw a decrease in enrollment from fall of 2016 to fall of 2017 and of those, 85% saw a decrease between 11-50%. Only 29% of those surveyed are either remaining flat or seeing an increase in enrollment.

Why are they seeing these drastic drops in enrollments?

  • Scholarships and Government Programs:  Many schools that traditionally counted on government funded programs, like Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Kuwait are seeing a reduction in the number of scholarships granted.
  • US Political Climate:  The easiest place to turn to cast the blame is the current political climate in the United States.   There is a lot of rhetoric of late that has to do with how welcoming the US will be to international people and students both now and in the future.  Many students are either being denied a Visa, or having the perception that they will not obtain one, so why bother even trying. Why come to the US with so many other options?
  • Competition:  There are a lot of ESL options in the US. In addition, there are many in-country options or other more “friendly” places to learn English for international students. Canada continues to become one of those more popular options.
  • Bridge/Pathway Programs:  This is a growing trend where students can learn English while earning credits towards their first year. In addition to the language, these programs are known to nurture the students and help them acclimate to a US education in ways that traditional short term ESL programs cannot (further competition).
  • Global Economy: The cost to study in the US is expensive and many simply cannot afford it.

What are the 29% that are not moving in the wrong direction doing? They are marketing themselves and getting their names out there. As an example, we are seeing online fairs that are dedicated to ESL programs. EnglishUSA was just recently promoting one and ESLdirectory.com partnered up with CollegeWeekLive last year to offer one as well.  They are also looking for Agent relationships. As an observer and ICEF attendee, we are noticing an increase in ESL schools and programs that are attending the ICEF North American fair, many for the first time.

Revisiting the EnglishUSA survey, according to one survey respondent, “ Pathway programs or similar models seem to be becoming a necessity to remain competitive.” Another stated, “We are a low-priced option, and price seems to be key in student decision-making at this time.”

While English as a second language programs are feeling the pain, many are getting smarter in the partnerships they form and the way in which they are marketing themselves.  Anytime you have a lot of competition and the pool of prospective students is shrinking, it is important to show what you do that is better and different from everyone else.  What are you doing to set your ESL program apart?

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