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SOU plans new English language program

ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University will launch an intensive English language program Jan. 4 intended to draw more international students and revenue to the campus of about 5,500 students.

The program is one part of the university's strategic plan, which seeks to ramp up enrollment, revenue and student diversity, said SOU Provost James Klein.

The birth of the SOU program means the closure of a private English language school already on campus that had been leasing space in the university's Britt Building at 1170 Siskiyou Blvd. for the last five years.

Jodi Weber, director of the Ashland ELS Language Center, declined to comment on the closure of the private language school.

International students will pay about $10,000 per year to attend SOU's English language program, Klein said. Students will receive provisional admission to SOU when they are accepted to the language school, but they must be deemed proficient in English before they can begin academic classes at the university, with the exception of applied classes such as music.

The tuition is expected to make the language program self-sufficient, Klein said. As the program grows, it could generate some revenue for the university, which recently grappled with reductions in state funding.

Adding more international students to the student body will generate more revenue for SOU because students from abroad pay twice as much in tuition, about $15,000 for a full load a year.

International student numbers at SOU have been waning over the years. About 80 foreign students now attend SOU. University leaders will strive to recruit enough international students to make up 5 percent of the student body. Based on the university's most recent enrollment, that would represent about 275 students.

About five students are expected to attend the language program in its maiden year, Klein said. Where on campus they will receive their language instruction is to be determined.

The program is modeled after Western Oregon University's intensive English language program, which was founded in 2005.

SOU's School of Education is developing a curriculum for the program, Klein said.

Gerry McCain, SOU associate professor of education, said the program will offer three levels of English instruction: beginner, intermediate and advanced.

"They will be tested to determine what level they'll be in," McCain said.

Students will learn the basics of grammar, spelling, reading, writing, listening and conversation. They will take a proficiency test such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language in order to proceed to academic classes.

At SOU, ELS was a successor of the American Language Academy, which folded in November 2004 after more than 20 years of operation at the university.

The ELS Language Center offered 13 four-week sessions each year and 12 levels of English language instruction on the university's campus. Each four-week session cost $1,565 for six hours per day, Monday through Friday.

ELS Language Centers still have about 50 locations across the United States and affiliates around the world.

The Ashland location had between 25 and 50 students for each of its four-week sessions.

Unlike SOU, ELS had international recruiters who helped entice new international pupils to Ashland. It also relied on word-of-mouth, contracts with international corporations and a scholarship program through the Saudi Arabian government to bring in students.

Klein said SOU plans to use faculty who travel abroad as well as a new partnership forged in October with Henan University in China to recruit international students to study in Ashland.

Even though enrollment in SOU's language program initially will be smaller than that of ELS, the tuition the university will collect from the pupils will pay for any expenses associated with the program, Klein said.

The program will make students' transition between language school and university classes more seamless by avoiding the need to change the institution listed on student visas, he said. Language program students also will have access to all of the services available to other university students, he said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.