Not speaking fluent English might soon be a steep barrier for students who want to go to Loyola.
The university is ending a program that teaches English to Loyola students who don’t speak it as a first language, but has yet to come up with a replacement to serve students who’ll still need it, officials said.
The program’s 68 students are now in limbo and its faculty are negotiating their severances. Because a collective bargaining agreement exists between Loyola and the faculty, there’s a lot from both sides that can’t be discussed, according to all parties interviewed.
The program, the English Language Learning Program (ELLP), is made up of both part-time and full-time faculty members. Faculty in the ELLP teach classes to English learners of all levels so they improve their proficiency to a point necessary to succeed in a Loyola classroom.
Some are international students who choose to study the English language and American culture full-time.
Others are international students who are admitted to Loyola under a program called “conditional admission” — which means they have the academic standing to get into Loyola but lack fluent, “near-native” English skills. ELLP lets them study at Loyola for a semester or two to improve their English before entering a degree program at the university.
Still, others are immigrants or refugees who already live in the United States. They completed high school at American schools but still lack English mastery. If Loyola detects this on a placement exam, it allows the student to participate in the ELLP so they have the best chance of success at Loyola.
But in March, Loyola told the ELLP professors that the program would be ceasing operations at the end of the faculty’s current contract on June 30.
There’s no plan for what to do with the students in the program who hope to continue their undergraduate or graduate careers at Loyola but need to complete English courses. John Frendreis, who represents the Loyola administration in the ELLP union negotiations, said it’s still being formulated.
However, ELLP students haven’t been officially notified by Loyola of the closure, ELLP faculty member Linda Rousos said.
To Rousos, it shows a lack of care for the students affected.
“I have never seen the amount of lack of transparency as I’ve seen here, and it’s interpreted by students and faculty as a lack of regard and respect for us,” Rousos said.
For Rousos, the decision is “heartbreaking.”
“For some of these students this is their dream,” Rousos said. “This is their family’s dream and plan, to come to the United States, to learn English well enough to study at the university and get a degree from an American university.”
The university has cited declining enrollment numbers in the ELLP as the reason for the closure.
Frendreis said the program’s seen a dramatic decline in enrollment in the last six years. ELLP data shows enrollment went down from more than 150 in 2015 to just under 70 this spring.
He said the program’s dropped below the point of covering its own costs and said students in other departments shouldn’t have to subsidize it.
“At this time, it does not seem that having a program that is structured the way ELLP is structured and staffed and run is perhaps the best stewardship of our students’ tuition dollars,” Frendreis said.
Frendreis said he couldn’t provide profitability numbers for the program.
But Rousos, who has worked in similar programs at other universities for 40 years, said these dips are normal.
“Low enrollment and fluctuating enrollment is the norm for intensive English programs,” Rousos said. “It is boom or bust. That’s just the way the industry is.”
Both Rousos and Frendreis acknowledged declining enrollment may be attributed in part to increasingly anti-immigrant political sentiment. This stems from President Donald Trump’s administration, which has cracked down as much on legal immigration as it has illegal.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the number of student F-1 visas have decreased from over 600,000 in 2014 to approximately 390,000 in 2018. The Department of State declined to comment on why this trend has occurred.
As the Loyola Phoenix previously reported, students in the U.S. on student F-1 visas only have 60 days after graduation before they have to return home or have other employment visas secured. This tight timeline has encouraged many students to study in Canada or other countries that grant a longer grace period after graduation.
Loyola isn’t the only school with a drop in English language learners. International student enrollment at colleges and universities has been going down across the country, leaving many institutions with significant revenue losses as international students often pay more in tuition than in-state students.
“Every single university has been affected by domestic and foreign economic and political conditions,” Rousos said.
Loyola’s international enrollment has gone from about 1,000 students for 2017-18 to about 775 for 2018-19, university data shows.
Rousos said lower enrollment doesn’t mean the program isn’t needed.
There were 68 students in the program this spring, according to ELLP associate director Ryan Nowak, and some have already been conditionally admitted as first-years for this fall, Rousos said.
She added the coursework the ELLP faculty provide them is invaluable.
“They have to be able to walk into an American classroom, listen to a professor or a [teaching assistant] speaking a mile a minute, take notes, ask questions if they dare and then study and read extensively in English,” Rousos said. “I know I would be hard pressed to do it.”
Frendreis said the university still plans on figuring out how to provide resources to students who need English help, but couldn’t say yet what that plan is. He said other universities have used outside vendors, partnered with other institutions or absorbed that role into existing courses.
With the ELLP on the way out and no concrete plan in place, Rousos said she’s concerned about English being a barrier of entry into Loyola.
“If they insist [on] closing ELLP as we know it, they must come up with English as a second language coursework and processes for non-native English speaking students, because it’s not just internationals,” Rousos said. “It’s also immigrants and refugees who went to high school here, and Native American students.”
Rousos said she thinks by removing this program, Loyola will be intentionally or unintentionally discriminating against non-native English speakers unless they provide a sufficient alternative.
Frendreis said he doesn’t think that’s the case, although he did say he’s not sure if admissions standards will still allow non-native English speakers to be conditionally admitted into Loyola.
“If people don’t meet admission standards they don’t get admitted,” Frendreis said. “I don’t regard that as insidious discrimination, if they don’t possess the credentials in order to be likely to succeed in a program.”
He added there’s plenty of universities across the U.S. and in international students’ home countries that could also provide them the necessary English training to succeed at Loyola.
“If a student has the desire to study at Loyola … they will do what they need to do in order to succeed,” Frendreis said. “So I don’t think the presence of the ELLP program in its current configuration is necessary in order to provide students those services or make Loyola a destination school for students who wish to come to Loyola.”
Loyola interim provost Margaret Faut Callahan, who made the decision, said in a statement: “Loyola is committed to providing services to our students through alternative means. We are finalizing the plans for the next academic year and will be communicating them as soon as possible.”