English program booms after changes

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — The English Language Institute at Henry Ford Community College had been steadily growing for a dozen years, but program restructuring last year has caused a noticeable bounce in enrollment numbers.

The ELI was originally started at the college in 2001 with nine students and two full-time directors. The mission of the program was to offer intensive English instruction to non-native speakers of the language.

It served as an independent entity on campus before changes last year brought it under the umbrella of the Communications Division.

“In the past, the ELI reported directly to the vice president of Academic Affairs of Arts and Sciences,” HFCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Tracy Pierner said. “When we restructured last year we felt that that program would be better served if it was led by a group of people who had a lot more experience at the classroom level.”

HFCC Associate Dean of Communications Katherine Grahl said her department immediately went to work reorganizing the program after being given control in July.

She said changes that went into affect for the Fall 2013 semester included revamped scheduling, updated textbook selections, realigned credit hours and a review of the qualifications for any adjunct professor working in the program.

The ELI now offers six levels of English instruction ranging from beginning to high intermediate. After students successfully complete the sixth level they are allowed to move on to a “bridge” semester at HFCC where they can take two additional developmental courses in reading and writing before enrolling in college’s lowest level college writing course.

The program has also seen a rise in student numbers. In the Fall 2013 semester, the first since the reorganizing, the program had 187 students being taught by 18 adjunct professors. That was 23 more students than the Winter 2013 semester and 51 more than the Fall 2012 semester.

Grahl said the college saw a gradual rise in student numbers in the program from 2001 until the Fall 2011 semester, when numbers spiked for two straight semesters before going back down.

“The spike could have been caused by a number of factors,” Grahl said. “Our enrollment as a college was at an all-time high of 20,000 students then and there was an influx of students from Oman that entered the program in the fall, so there were reasons for the spike.”

For the Winter 2014 semester that is ongoing, the ELI has grown to 220 students and the college has added five more adjunct faculty members to accommodate them.

All without a marketing campaign.

“We didn’t even advertise the program between the semesters because we were busy restructuring and reinventing,” HFCC Communications Academic Coordinator Lori Slaber said. “It was all word-of-mouth from current and former students.”

Slaber has been an instructor at HFCC for 10 years and has taught language courses in English, French, German and Spanish. She previously worked as an adjunct professor in the ELI.

Slaber said that 75 percent of the students in the ELI are from the local community with the remaining 25 percent attending on international visas.

She added that though the students are living in the community, they are from wide-ranging backgrounds and locations, including countries as far away as Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and even three students from China.

“It is very interesting to discover the background of these students,” Slaber said. “We even have one student who was born in the United States and has lived here her entire life but still needs coursework in English as a Second Language because in her house they do not speak English.”

Grahl said the job of reorganization is not finished as curriculum is being redesigned, the institute’s ESL Compass placement scores are being recalibrated and alternative or additional placement exams are being explored for future semesters.

Grahl also said the ELI is beginning the process of seeking national accreditation from the Commission of English Language Program Accreditation.

“We would really like to have that standard and stamp of approval for the program,” Grahl said. “The CEA have only accredited only four schools in Michigan and they are all universities.”

The CEA accredited schools in Michigan are Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University, Western Michigan University and the University of Michigan.

Grahl said the CEA has 11 mission standards that they review from applicants and that within those standards there are 44 separate elements that HFCC would have to meet to be accredited.

“It’s an involved process and it will probably take us at least a year to attain it, but we are committed to working toward our goal of accreditation,” Grahl said.

She added that the goal is to give the “best opportunity possible” to the students trying to learn the English language.

“Students are so motivated and dedicated and I am really happy that we can provide something that will help them on their way to achieving their goals and dreams,” Grahl said. “I’ve been saying for many years that our ESL courses are the best kept secret on campus and I still feel that way.”

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)