EnglishUSA Executive Director, Cheryl Delk-Le Good, presents a profile of the association's membership.
EnglishUSA gathers to address industry issues and challenges

EnglishUSA, the American Association of Intensive English Programs (IEPs), held its fifth annual Stakeholders' Conference last week, discussing issues such as association collaboration, potential growth in the junior business, visa updates and insights from foreign embassies.

Welcoming delegates from member IEPs, the Stakeholders' Conference was held at the University of California Washington Center last week, under the theme 'Facing the Future - Together'.


Opening the conference, EnglishUSA Executive Director, Cheryl Delk-Le Good, reported that despite the recruitment struggles currently faced by providers in the US, the association had a high retention rate and had added five new members in the previous two weeks.


She highlighted a range of policy initiatives for the association, including a programme development task force, an advisory council and the development of an EnglishUSA-only agent workshop in Brazil. She also unveiled the association's new 'Together We Are IEPs in the USA' motto.


A panel discussion with representatives from a number of government departments highlighted some of the challenges facing the US sector. Rachel Alarid from the Department of Commerce said that education services ranked as the country's seventh largest export sector, but referred to an 18.67 per cent decrease in students for IEPs in 2016/17.


Laura Stein, Visa Policy Analyst at the Department of State, meanwhile, revealed that 471,712 F1 (academic) visas were issued in FY2016, a significant reduction compared with 644,204 in the previous year, although this was partly attributable to the introduction of five-year visas for Chinese nationals, she said. Overall, 72 per cent of F-1 and M-1 (vocational) visa applications were approved in 2016, she advised.


Commenting on addressing the political headwinds that the US education sector faces in a session on advocacy, Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange, warned that educators should prepare for the current immigration agenda continuing and for President Trump being re-elected, as is the norm for incumbent presidents.


He said that "full engagement is critical" and urged delegates to lobby elected officials, the media and constituents about the value of the international education sector, sentiments echoed by Patricia Szasz, Immediate Past President of EnglishUSA, who outlined a number of lobbying techniques for IEPs. The Alliance has recently been leading a campaign to protect the reportedly threatened workplace strands of the J-1 exchange programme.


"If the perception of the USA abroad has been altered, we have little control over that," said Bill Larkin, Executive Director of the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) in an accreditation session, adding that schools have to get the message across that the sector hasn't changed. He also referred to greater reliance on short-term programmes and younger learners.


The junior segment was highlighted as a potential area of expansion for USA-based IEPs, and Nadine Baladi, President-Elect of EnglishUSA and Director of Operations, USA for ILSC Education Group, led a session on short-term summer junior camps, outlining different types of courses and tips for IEPs interested in entering the junior market. She highlighted that agent-based recruitment was the predominant model in the junior sector.


Elsewhere on the schedule, embassy representatives from Latin America and the Middle East provided intelligence and updates, including plans for a new Saudi scholarship that will fund 10,000 students to study overseas and Colombia's project to increase English proficiency. Delegates heard that Mexican numbers have declined due to political issues, but that Panama is increasing year on year and Brazil is hopeful of an upswing to the USA in 2018.


Commenting on the success of the conference, Cheryl said, "EnglishUSA was pleased with the turnout for its fifth annual event in this two-day format, which included nearly 150 member programme representatives and associates, stakeholders, potential members and special guests.


"Feedback from the attendees indicates that the conference continues to provide practical information from many of the major stakeholders. In addition to the invited sessions, this is also an important time to highlight our motto 'Together We Are IEPs in the USA' by bringing the community together in person to share successes and challenges."


See StudyTravel Magazine's previous news story for a detailed report on a special panel discussion on the future of educator-agent relationships.


The conference also featured an inspirational plenary talk from Aziz Abu Sarah, a National Geographic Explorer, as well as table discussions during breakouts and a networking reception.


EnglishUSA's next major conference will be a Professional Development Conference in Monterey in January.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor