Faculty Senate takes steps towards reinstatement of ESL program

The UAA Faculty Senate is supporting a motion to revive the English as a Second Language (ESL) program at the university. The senate made this decision in their most recent meeting on Sept. 7 based on a report of the UAA Committee of Internationalization.

Photo credit: Jian Bautista

The discontinuation affected both international students and students from the local population with a different first language. For admission to UAA, international students were required to demonstrate a higher level of English proficiency on the English as a Foreign Language Test (TOEFL).

The affected students often enrolled in developmental English classes. These classes, however, differ significantly from ESL classes, according to Tara Smith, UAA professor of ESL.

Smith, who also serves on the Committee of Internationalization, welcomes the support of the senate. The committee focused their work exclusively on the ESL program after its discontinuation.

“I hope that the process for reestablishing ESL classes will continue outside of the faculty senate,” Smith said.

The committee had already met with the Interim Provost John Stalvey; discussions with Chancellor Cathy Sandeen will be the next step, Smith explained.

The ESL courses were initially canceled due to low enrollment in the last years and costs.

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Smith said she thinks that enrollment numbers can be better with appropriate changes to the program.

“As long as we make sensible decisions about admission, placement and recruitment, there’s no reason that the program can’t thrive as it has for many years,” Smith said.

When reinstated, the classes will require between $165,000 and $209,000 for instruction, the report estimates.

However, it also found that the tangible and intangible benefits of the program are “overwhelmingly higher” than costs.

One reason, according to the report, is that interacting with international students helps local students develop a more open mind towards new cultures and ideas.

“The implication is that without a well-rounded ESL program, it is unlikely that UAA will have a solid international student base,” the committee wrote in their report.

Data by the Office of Institutional Research suggests there has already been a decrease in the numbers of international students at UAA.

The report considers the classes as “possibly one of the least costly options to bring diverse populations” to Alaska and UAA.

A decrease in international students could also result in significant revenue loss.

“International students do pay additional tuition and bring much needed revenue, which is exceedingly relevant especially during times of budget duress,” the committee says in the report. “This, in turn, implies that we will forego the potential benefits from a highly educated and diverse workforce.”

Annual tuition for an international undergraduate student is $22,530, according to current numbers by the Office of Financial Aid. This is more than three times higher than the cost for undergraduate Alaska residents, who pay $6,360 of tuition per academic year.

Cutting the ESL program also affected exchange programs with international partner institutions, Hiroko Harada explained. Harada, professor and coordinator of the UAA Japanese program, is overseeing two exchange programs with partner institutions.

The partnership with the Hokkaido University of Education in Japan was established in 2005. When the ESL classes were discontinued last fall, she still had five exchange students from Japan coming to UAA.

“They came anyway because they were already scheduled to come even before the ESL was cut,” Harada said.

The students were then placed into preparatory English courses with different curricula, which “much surprised” them, Harada said. This year, she added, the program has experienced a significant decrease in participants.

“This exchange program is one of the most active ones on campus,” Harada said. “I had several students from Hokkaido last year. This semester, I had none.”

The plan to reestablish the program is in accordance with UAA’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan that was finalized in June 2017. Some DIAP key objectives are the diversification of UAA’s instructional strategies, the development of a framework for diversity advocacy and the purposeful inclusion of diversity on all levels.

Regarding ESL classes, the DIAP recognizes that the students in the program “reflect considerable language diversity and require support in… English to successfully engage” in other classes.

Administrators are currently considering different institutional placements for the ESL program. Prior to its discontinuation, the Community and Technical College was home to the program. Other potential locations include the College of Arts and Sciences or a separate center on campus for the entire UAA community.