New Act Regulates English-Language Programs

In March, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the Department of Homeland Security formed a new council — the Academic Advisory Council — to addresses issues in higher education. Meanwhile, the department’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) underwent a restructuring of employees, in hopes of freeing up agents to analyze cases and attend to troubling trends in the education of international students. This week, the Chronicle follows up on those articles by reporting on a new Act initiated by SEVP — the Accrediting of English Language Programs Act — which requires English-language programs to have specialized accreditation prior to being permitted to enroll foreign students.

Prior to this Act, a 2010 law already required independent language schools to either have or be in the process of obtaining accreditation before admitting foreign students into their programs. However, this new Act has the potential to hinder programs provided by colleges and universities, as regional or national accreditation may no longer enough to get a pass from SEVP. SEVP is now looking to see that English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are individually accredited, or that regional and national accreditation agencies have specifically examined the language programs, which is not often the case.

Schools that are already regionally and/or nationally accredited by agencies that do not individually evaluate language programs may lose their ability to admit foreign students. Failure to procure accurate accreditation of the program will result in SEVP requiring the institutions to close their programs to foreign students. This has already happened to a flagship public university, the Chronicle reports, which was told it could no longer admit foreign students because its regional accreditor does not individually evaluate language programs. The schools has since appealed the decision.

These new standards have come under debate. NAFSA: Association of International Educators (NAFSA) called the detailed program information required by SEVP "excessive" and "unnecessarily burdensome," the Chronicle reports. Other associations have said that the SEVP’s lack of specification as to the evidence of accreditation required by schools leads to confusion. Schools themselves are concerned about losing the ability to enroll international students, especially since it can take more than a year to secure adequate accreditation.

The SEVP, however, is sticking to its decision. The Chronicle quotes Gillian M. Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, as declaring that SEVP has reviewed the Act carefully, and that "its view is not a mistake." Christensen also stated that SEVP will clarify what it is looking for from programs during its reviews.

The Accreditation of English Language Programs Act can be found on the Department of Homeland Security’s website.

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