UAA’s ESL program to be cancelled

Irasema Ortega, a language education instructor, feels the cancellation of ESL classes will deter international students from enrolling at UAA. She believes that it will ultimately affect the college experience for students. Photo credit: Irasema Ortega

University of Alaska Anchorage’s English as a second language (ESL) program was recently announced to be canceled prior to this academic year.

ESL provides entry-level courses for students who’s first language is not English. Classes in the program give international and non-English speaking students practice including pronunciation, reading, writing and other critical skills.

For students that come from other countries, ESL courses are vital to ensure a successful transition into their college classes. The cancellation of ESL will affect current students as well as prospective international students who will need to find language assistance off campus.

Cuts to the ESL program may result in loss of tuition revenue and lack of diversity on campus. International students pay a higher level of tuition than Alaska residents or US citizens that attend UAA. Thus, the university will suffer a loss of tuition earnings and incoming foreign students.

Irasema Ortega, a language education instructor and investigator for Project Language Equity and Academic Performance believes that ESL classes are crucial for many students at the university.

“The level of English proficiency required for success at UAA and at many other institutions is greatly improved by ESL classes in each of the academic English domains,” Ortega said. “Cancellation of classes could potentially cause international students to consider attending other colleges and universities. This will result in a loss of cultural and linguistic diversity in our campus thus decreasing the richness of the college experience for all students who attend UAA.”

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International students whose first language is not English must demonstrate proficiency in either the test of English as a foreign language or the international English language testing system before being eligible to advance to regular content classes. Without offering remedial classes, many students will have to make other plans prior to registering for courses.

Former ESL instructor, Jonathan Bower, felt the cut of ESL to be “discouraging” — having so many implications and impacts across the learning spectrum at UAA.

“This decision fails to take into account the true, day-to-day, on-the-ground rigors that any international student faces in pursuing an opportunity to study here. To my understanding, the ESL classes are customarily where our international students receive the basic tools needed for them to proceed through their degree or academic pursuits here. How can we expect them to understand critical thinking or college essay writing or core philosophies in our disciplines if they’re still trying to work out basic grammar and sentence structure?” Bower said.

Bower worries what effect the loss of ESL will have on international students at UAA.

“It concerns me that we may now see an influx of students throughout the disciplines who, lacking those basic skills afforded to them through ESL classes, may now also, in addition to basic grammar or sentence structure, be freighted with trying to comprehend critical thinking, traditional essay-writing, narrative structure, etc.,” Bower said. “I’ve lived in other cultures. I only survived in those places by first receiving certain, basic instructions and education in the language and writing before I could move on and attempt anything more complex or out of my league as a beginning student.”

Gesar Bat-Erdene, a UAA student from Mongolia, admitted that many international students face communication challenges that ESL helps them deal with.

“UAA has been known for it’s welcoming environment for international students. Cancellation of the ESL program will affect the performance of the students who need these classes the most, particularly, eliminating an opportunity to prepare for more advanced classes. In addition to the decreasing number of international students’ population in UAA, it will create less favorable conditions for new arrivals,” Bat-Erdene said.

In result of the university budget crisis, important programs that contribute to the success of many students are being eliminated. What international and non-English speaking students will do without the ESL program is to be tested following this academic year.