All posts by Alan Broomhead

Let’s talk about those hourly teaching rates

A school vice principal I once reported to told me of his younger days teaching 60-hour weeks at Berlitz school. It was exhausting, he said, but at least with the Berlitz method, all he had to do was walk into the classroom and follow the script. There was no lesson planning, no grading, no syllabus or evaluations to write.

The Berlitz method is gone, and good riddance, but how should the hours of part-time ESL instructors be calculated in an age when teaching involves so much more than walking in and following the script? Many ESL teachers are employed on an hours-per-week basis, which invariably refers to the number of hours spent in class teaching students. Many programs in their turn – and this includes university IEPs, non-profit organizations, and English language schools – advertise their rate on a per-hour basis, which also refers to hours spent in class. At the upper end, this could be $60 – $80 per hour in some university programs. At the lower end, it could be as low as $15 or $20 per hour, especially in some non-profits and private language schools. As all ESL teachers know, these are not the true hourly rates, because teaching requires preparation and grading, in addition to required meetings, office hours, evaluation writing, and other activities. According to the federal government, actual hours worked should be calculated as time in class x 2.25. That is, for each hour spent in class, it is reasonable to assume that instructors spend another 1.25 hours working outside the class. Additional required activities should be compensated additional to this.

Many ESL teachers will tell you that 2.25 hours is too conservative, and that they spend longer on lesson planning and grading. Others may find it over-generous. But for the sake of argument, let’s take this number as a reasonable expectation. It doesn’t take advanced math skills to work out that a “15-hours-per-week” (not untypical for part-time ESL teaching) assignment is almost a full work week. Add those additional duties and you easily have a full-time job. Further, that $20 “hourly wage” is well below minimum wage in most states. Even that higher paying $80 per hour teaching gig is actually $35.50.

Everyone in the field knows about this. Part-time teachers tend not to complain because they enjoy the work and it’s the best they can do. University administrators and business owners know that advertising actual pay rates might be embarrassing and paying more would reduce margins. Accreditation standards for intensive English programs don’t mandate salaries or impose specific workload requirements. Associations such as TESOL and EnglishUSA either have little will or power to address salaries and teaching loads for part-timers.

It is way past time for a conversation about this, to include teachers, administrators, business owners and managers, accreditors, and associations. A start could be made at the national TESOL convention or the NAFSA conference. Can the field overcome its inertia and finally address part-time teaching salaries?


What’s the real story on international student applications?

“Survey Finds College Applications from International Students Down,” cries the U.S. News and World Report headline from March 13. “Amid Trump Effect Fear, 40% of Colleges See Dip in Foreign Applicants,” reports the New York Times on March 16. “Will International Students Stay Away?” asks Inside Higher Ed on March 13, reporting a “nearly 40% decline” in international applications.

What’s the story here? The actual percentage reporting declines was 38% or 39% (depending on whether you read the original AACRO preliminary report or one of the news stories), not 40%. This is three or four percentage points higher than institutions reporting increases in international applications, not a whole lot. And the rest – 27% – reported no change. Which means that 62% of institutions are reporting the same or higher applications.

While most stories touch briefly on some of the institutions experiencing increases, the slant to all the stories is negative. Far from simply reporting anxiety about future enrollments, they appear to be creating it. Is there a real basis for anxiety here? Consider:

  1. We haven’t yet learned (though a full report is expected) which institutions took part, how they were selected (or if they self-selected) or if they are representative of U.S. institutions as a whole. It is possible that institutions experiencing declines disproportionately responded to the survey.
  2. Only 250 institutions responded to the survey, a small sample of the thousands of institutions accepting international students. Without more information, it is too early to conclude that “nearly 40% of U.S. colleges are seeing declines.”
  3. We are not given any information about how these results compare to previous years, or whether the survey was conducted in previous years. Is this year better or worse than before? The only clues we get from the stories are anecdotal and speculative.
  4. No information has been given about the margin of error – which could even out the institutions reporting increases and decreases.
  5. No actual numbers are given, meaning we don’t have any real idea of the extent of the increases and decreases reported.

None of this is meant to diminish the anxiety that some institutions are clearly experiencing over enrollment declines. It is also not a criticism of the original study. But stories like this, especially those with a negative and alarmist slant, can quickly take on the status of orthodoxy and shape the conversation over the entire higher education landscape. They need to be read and interpreted with caution.

Sources for this post:


University IEPs: get the business back

Right after September 11, 2001, when many IEP student left the country and new applications tailed off to near-zero, I received some advice from a good friend: “Be here when the business comes back.” What he meant was to increase the school’s visibility, especially online, because the downturn wasn’t going to last forever and prospective students would once again be looking for schools to study English in the U.S. So I worked like a fiend to develop the school’s website, turning it into not only an information source in multiple languages, but also a highly efficient sales tool. I learned about SEO and made sure the site was appearing at the top of the search results. In time, the business did come back and sales turned around and took off.

Many IEPs, especially those in universities, have not been very well oriented to promoting themselves. For a few years, it was more or less enough to hang out a sign and wait for the students to arrive. Not any more. In these times of reduced enrollments, university IEPs need to take active steps to seek new students. They should adopt a three-point strategy:

  1. Define and communicate the unique value of the IEP. If your IEP looks just like any other, then you have a commodity and a race to the bottom on price. Sit down with your faculty, staff, university colleagues, students, and external contacts, and really figure out what makes your program unique. In most cases, it won’t be a single feature but a combination of features that are unique to your program. Think about the benefits of your location, your faculty’s expertise, opportunities for community interaction, and university resources. Also, keep in mind that you are unlikely to be attractive to all students everywhere. What is your niche? What do you want to be known for?  Once you have defined it, communicate it – on your website, in your social media, in your brochure, and whenever you and your staff talk to others about your program. If you advertise, be sure to include your message in your advertising.
  2. Develop new programs and adapt existing ones. Accept that the market is changing, and that what was attractive ten years ago may be less so today. Be aware – through conference attendance, reading (ICEF Monitor, The PIE Weekly, etc.), and your conversations with your external contacts – of what new programs are likely to be attractive. Match these ideas with your faculty’s expertise, and get faculty on board with program development. Think about populations you haven’t served, such as short-term summer high school students, incoming degree students, or professionals, and develop new content and means of delivery to appeal to these markets. Once you have developed curricula, put these new programs on your website and in your materials to signal your program’s capacity to deliver them, and talk them up in your conversations.
  3. Actively recruit students. As the cliché says, waiting for the phone to ring is not a good sales strategy. Expensive student fairs are generally not very effective for individual IEPs. Go with recruitment methods that are likely to lead to repeat business over time. Identify target countries based on resources such as Open Doors, Dr. Education, and NAFSA. See if you can work with the Undergraduate Admissions Office or the graduate colleges on campus to piggy-back on their recruitment and outreach efforts.   If you are permitted to work with agents, increase your network through agent fairs or in-country visits, or work more closely with your existing partners. Work with EducationUSA offices and try the State Department’s Gold Key service to connect with institutions and corporations in your target countries. Connect with foreign institutions at NAFSA and develop those relationships.

These are trying times for most university IEPs. If they are to survive and thrive in a hyper-competitive environment and during uncertain political times, they need to be pro-active. It’s not enough to wait for the business to come back. The strategy outlined above will get an IEP moving in a positive direction and ready to take on future shifts in the markets.

Recognizing the university’s obligations to its international students

Many U.S. universities have increased their international student enrollments over the past few years, through building out their international student recruitment capacity, working with overseas study abroad agents, or partnering with a pathway provider. Financial motivations are at the heart of much of this recruitment activity, but many institutions have been keen to implement and communicate a campus internationalization plan that adds value to the students’ experience by offering a diverse student community. But such a plan requires more than merely a recruitment effort: institutions need to develop the capacity to support their growing international population of students, who may need help with cultural adjustment, language skills, and orientation to the demands of the U.S. higher education system. In many cases, institutions have been slow to recognize the need for and create appropriate support systems for their international students, and this has led to concerns or complaints among faculty that students are not prepared, heightened stress for international students, and academic disciplinary measures taken against students who may not be familiar with citation practices. Clearly, institutions that have recruited international students should take their responsibilities toward these students seriously by offering plentiful support through dedicated staff, offices, and programs.

But this is only part of the solution. Much talk about international students on campus focuses on getting them to integrate, getting them to learn the American way, improving their communication skills. In this discourse, which belongs to the longstanding assimilationist tradition in the U.S.,  international students are viewed as a problem to be fixed. If institutions really want to develop their global credentials though, they need to look in the mirror: how prepared are faculty and staff to work with students from other cultures and language backgrounds? To what extent does the institution prepare its U.S. students to break out of their familiar social groups to befriend and welcome those from other countries? At a time when many institutions are signaling that they welcome international students, how many are actually taking measures to build that welcoming environment?

We know that most international students leave the U.S. not having formed a single significant friendship with an American or having once stepped into an American home. To serve their international students well, university administrations and faculties should refrain from merely problematizing those students, and accept their share of the burden in creating a welcoming, globally oriented institution.

IEPs and the Rise of Pathway Programs

This week my colleague from the University of Kansas, Deborah Osborne and I led a discussion on the future of

Deborah Osborne and Alan at the TESOL Convention, Seattle

university intensive English programs at the TESOL Convention in Seattle. Many university IEPs reported enrollment declines of between 10% and 70% last fall, and some are really struggling at this point. Meanwhile, pathway programs resulting from partnerships between universities (such as American University, Oregon State University, and George Mason University) and corporate partners (such as INTO, Navitas, and Shorelight) continue to proliferate, suggesting that English language and academic preparation for international students is undergoing a major shift.

For prospective students, the major attraction of a pathway program is the word ‘guaranteed.’ If they complete the program successfully, they will matriculate into the partner university. Many university IEPs can offer college advising and assistance with applications, but are not able to offer that guarantee. For universities, pathway programs can offer a fast track to increasing international student enrollments with little upfront investment or the need to build their own international student recruiting capacity.

There are two main choices for university IEPs. First, they can try to compete on the pathway providers’ territory by setting up their own pathway programs. The challenge here is that they generally don’t have the recruitment network to make that happen quickly, and there are very few instances of a university recruiting significant numbers of students via a home-grown pathway. Second, they can adapt to provide programming that pathway programs can’t. Examples include shorter programs, custom programs, specialized programs, and programs to support admitted or matriculated international students on their campus. This will require flexibility and an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.

These are challenging times for IEPs, and it remains to be seen whether they can adapt to the challenge of the pathway model.

Aligning assessment and IEP culture

Since the passage of the Accreditation Act of 2010, intensive English programs (IEPs) have been under pressure to justify their quality claims by recording and reporting on student achievement. This has meant devising program-wide systems for assessing and evaluating students, and has been a challenge for many IEPs.

The type of system a program develops is influenced by its culture. A more managerial (top-down, administratively driven) culture typical of proprietary English schools tends to favor standardization of assessment that includes program-wide level-end tests. Many university IEPs have more of a collegial (faculty-driven with a degree of shared governance) culture in which individual faculty decision-making and autonomy are valued. In the latter type, it can grate against the culture when there is an attempt to introduce or impose standard testing. It may be more agreeable to retain faculty autonomy in assessment but introduce checks to ensure that assessments are aligned with course objectives and outcomes.

Both approaches (and blends of the two) are used by CEA-accredited programs and are able to meet the CEA standards. There is no need to create standard assessments across a program if they do not fit the culture. On the other hand, the imperative to assess students in a more consistent way can be a catalyst for culture change. This will need leadership, persuasion, and buy-in from faculty.

I’ve designed and overseen assessment and evaluation systems in proprietary and university programs, and can support programs in determining and developing the right approach. Get in touch if I can help!

Have a great weekend!

(Learn more about academic cultures in Engaging the Six Cultures of the Academy by William Bergquist and Kenneth Pawlak. I highly recommend it.)

Where most IEPs trip up in CEA accreditation

The CEA Planning, Development, and Review standards have proven tricky for many intensive English programs to get right at the first attempt. The seriousness of failing to measure up has been mitigated in recent years by CEA’s decision to collapse what were four planning and review standards into two – meaning that a program will have fewer standards of concern if it is having difficulty in this area. Nonetheless, the challenge for many programs is that they have never had a plan for regular review of their academic and administrative areas in place. Even knowing what such a plan would look like can be an obstacle to developing one effectively.

I’ve created development and review plans for a rolling-intake proprietary IEP and a semester-based university IEP. They were very different plans, each one tailored to the needs of its program, but both worked well and met CEA standards. If this is an area your IEP is having difficulty with, why not contact me to find out how I can help?

Have a great week!

What is backwards design?

When devising your curriculum, you need to start out by thinking about goals, outcomes, and assessment. What do you want students to achieve by the end of the course? How will you know if they have achieved it? Once you are clear about these things, you can start to work on the teaching and learning objectives that will guide classroom learning. Often, curriculum design starts at the wrong end, with lists of items to be learned and teaching and learning activities, with little thought at the outset about overall outcomes or assessment. By using backwards design, you prioritize student learning outcomes and let them be your guide in assessment, objectives, materials, and teaching and learning activities.

Let me help you with your dissertation

There are few things in life more daunting than the prospect of writing a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. Whether it’s choosing or narrowing down a topic, deciding on a research method and theoretical framework, preparing an IRB submission, conducting the research, or writing it all up, every step involves challenges that you likely have never have encountered before. Let me help. I’ve done this myself, and I’ve coached others through the process. I can help you get to the finish line on time with a piece of work that you can be proud of.