50% Drop In International Students Attending Intensive English Programs in US, Report Finds


The number of international students attending intensive English programs has decreased by 50 percent during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new data from the Open Doors report have shown.

Intensive English Programs are designed to support international students expected to attend university or a graduate program in the United States in improving their English language skills, Erudera.com reports.

More than 37,000 international students studied for over half a million student weeks at intensive English programs in the US during 2020, while in 2019 there were more than 75,000 international students who studied for over a million student weeks.

“The external shock of Covid-19, however, has resulted in a 50% decline in international students attending the US intensive English programs,” the research specialist at the Institute of International Education (IIE) Julie Baer said while speaking at NAFSA’s 2021 annual conference.

Data from the intensive English program survey published this month have shown that students from China made up 24.5 percent of the total 37,365 IEP students in 2020, which group experienced a drop of 47 percent compared to a year earlier. Data for other countries are as follows:

  • 6,880 students from Saudi Arabia.
  • 5,285 students from Japan.
  • 2,837 students from Brazil.
  • 2,682 students from South Korea.

“It is important to note that Covid-19, however, has impacted the entire English language industry globally,” Baer added.

Notable declines have also been observed in English UK member schools, which have reported an 83.6 fall in 2020, while Languages Canada marked a 56 percent decrease, and English Australia saw a drop of 43.3 percent in new commencements.

“While these destinations may have used different definitions for how students were counted year over year, what is clear is that Covid-19 has been an external shock that has resulted in significant declines across the entire English language training market globally,” Baer said. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in this year’s studies researchers have included students participating in US-based intensive English language programs but who had to work remotely from their home countries.

While researchers asked how the COVID-19 pandemic affected programs, 90 percent of them have reported adverse impacts. At the same time, IIE revealed that a third of programs reported budget cuts, layoffs, and the need to combine classroom levels.

Around 93 percent said that COVID-19 has pushed investment or innovations within their programs, whereas 80 percent of programs have experienced an increase in virtual outreach and recruitment. 

According to Baer, there have been changes in the number of students, significantly increasing or decreasing over the past 40 years. Nonetheless, IIE highlighted in the 2019 calendar year that the number of international IEP students dropped by only 4 percent.

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