Larger space, word-of-mouth spur EMU program’s popularity

In just five years, new classroom space and growing interest has more than doubled the number of students enrolling in an Eastern Mennonite University program serving learners with limited English skills.

The Intensive English Program, begun in 1989 to support international students wishing to study in America, now has 85 students, a marked increase from its fall 2008 enrollment of 35.

In the last year alone, the program has added 19 students, an increase of 29 percent made possible by a large applicant pool.

The purpose of the program is to prepare students to obtain undergraduate or graduate degrees in the United States. The program is an “academic English” program, meaning emphasis is put on teaching the skills that will help the individuals be successful in a higher-education setting.

Classes emphasize listening, speaking, reading, writing and grammar.

A primary reason for the growth is IEP’s move to a new location in a former dormitory last fall that dramatically increased space and the program’s ability to serve more students.

“We outgrew our space,” said Kathleen Roth, director of the Intensive English Program. “It was really, really tight.”

Even now, instructors have had to begin offering afternoon classes to facilitate the program’s large number of students, now just 15 short of capacity.

Refugees and immigrants also have benefited from less-stringent requirements to obtain a visa in the past decade, Roth said, making getting to the U.S. easier. And more students are making EMU a specific destination due to word-of-mouth about the IEP program.

“It was sort of the perfect storm of visas being easier to get, and the number of students that had a good experience and they tell two more [people],” Roth said

The 85 students now enrolled in IEP represent a mix of countries from all over the world, Roth said, including a fair number from Saudi Arabia because of increased recruitment efforts there.

“We have had semesters where a majority were from Korea and then the next couple of semesters the majority were from Latin American and then the majority were from the Middle East,” he said. “This semester, we have a really great mix and the more diverse the group is, the faster the instruction is because you can’t rely on your home language [in the classroom].”

Since its inception, more than 1,000 students from 62 countries have come through the IEP program.

Courtesy Daily News Record, Oct. 1, 2013