ESL program gets accredited

Story by Eric Christenson

The university’s English as a Second Language program gained membership and received accreditation from the American Association of Intensive English Programs, a culmination of a summer and two semesters of work.

Catherine Lee, an Intensive English Program coordinator at Eau Claire, said that the accreditation was a validation as well as
a relief.

“It’s fantastic,” she said.  “It’s a testament to the quality of the program, which we knew anyway, but it’s great that an outside body reviewed our materials, reviewed our program and found that to be true.”

The process for being accredited certainly doesn’t happen overnight, though.

ESL senior lecturer Julie Adler said that there was a lot of planning involved and the process is costly and time-consuming.

Adler said former ESL coordinator Beth Ernst laid a lot of the groundwork for the program by submitting an internal study of the program. That submission was reviewed and approved by the AAIEP board of directors.  Ernst has since left the University to accept a different teaching position.

But Adler said it went a lot more smoothly than it could have.

“Through this accreditation process, you send in your first bundle of documents which a huge, huge binder and very often there’s followup with subsequent submissions,” she said.  “We didn’t have to have any of that. They accepted it the first time around, which is also a huge accomplishment.”

Adler said the accreditation is exceptional for the program because it will allow for a lot of growth within the department.  They are expecting nearly four times as many students next fall and with that comes some growing pains. But, on the whole, the accreditation is a big step for the department.

Lee said having this under the department’s belt is a big advantage with recruiting, something she’s heavily involved in.  She said students look for accredited programs to seek out ones of higher quality.

“It’s something that we can advertise when we’re meeting with different universities and different agencies overseas,” Lee said.  “It’s something we include in information and something we announce to students and say, ‘Hey, our program is accredited, so you know you’re getting a good quality program.’”

Adler said one of Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich’s initiatives when he first became chancellor was to increase the number of international students at Eau Claire.  The goal was set at having 400 international students by 2014.

With the accreditation, Adler said, they are extremely close to reaching that goal two years ahead of time.

“It really changes the face of our campus,” she said.  “We’re getting a lot of diversity and we hope that grows.”

But there’s more to the accreditation than just recognition:  Lee said that there are certain standards to meet in order to keep the accreditation. For example, class sizes of 12-15 students and all of the faculty having master’s degrees in TESOL, or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

“We’re growing right now; there will be some challenges for the future, but we’ll have that accreditation to fall back on,” she said.  “We need to maintain these standards … if we don’t continue that, we’ll lose our accreditation.”

Lee said that this is really a win-win situation because not only does it give the department more clout, but it sets incentive for the program to function consistently at a high level.

“I definitely think it can’t hurt by any stretch of the imagination.”