A portion of international students at Northeastern University are performing on par with domestic students, and their success is, in part, due to a pathway program that helps students improve their written and spoken English before fully matriculating into the university.
That makes for more satisfied faculty members, more satisfied students, and a more cohesive university, according to Francis Griffin, the former assistant director of the Global Pathways program at Northeastern University and the current Director of Global Pathways for Kaplan.
Kaplan partners with Northeastern and three other universities in the United States to support such programs and it has dozens of partner universities around the world, primarily in the United Kingdom and Australia. In the United States, Kaplan provides recruitment, marketing, and wraparound student support services. In the U.K. and Australia, Kaplan provides direct instruction to students.
The fact that it takes more work on the part of colleges and universities in the United States to launch pathway programs helps explain why they’re far more common abroad, where universities often simply host programs run by corporate providers like Kaplan. Virtually every university in the U.K. is home to some type of pathway program while there are just a sprinkling in the United States. But in the 2013-14 academic year, more than 886,000 international students were enrolled in U.S. Schools, according to data from the Institute for International Education.
One might call that growth potential.
Pathway programs — or foundation programmes, as a new report from StudyPortals calls them — have only been around for about a decade and already account for an $825 million global market that analysts expect to continue booming as international student mobility expands.
Griffin says Northeastern University’s was the first real pathway program in the United States. It started serving students about eight years ago, capitalizing on relaxed visa requirements that make it easier for prospective students to get permission to come here. Students have the option of choosing a pathway called American Classroom, run entirely by Northeastern for undergrads, and one called Global Pathways, which is run in partnership with Kaplan for undergraduate or graduate students.
Northeastern’s pathway programs serve as recruitment tools to reach students who meet the standards of the university academically but need help when it comes to English language skills. And the programs go one step further.
"Along with that is this recognition that it's more than just language that needs to be improved upon," Griffin said. "It's language and really American campus culture or classroom culture."
In most other countries, higher education does not stretch far beyond the lecture. Students quietly take notes in class and often do not engage in dialogue. In the United States, participation is expected and factored into at least a portion of the overall grade.
"A lot of work goes into training our students on how to become participants in the classroom," Griffin said.
Many schools are already increasing their outreach efforts to recruit international students, padding tuition revenue projections with full-pay students from abroad. The next step, however, may be recognizing there is a pool of qualified students who need better language skills and a cultural education to thrive here. Pathway programs are one way to provide it.
Griffin said one of the best benefits of such programs is the ability to host students pre-matriculation, getting a better sense of their preparation levels than a simple application or GPA can otherwise provide. Conditional acceptance to Northeastern is offered to students who enroll in Global Pathways, but if they don’t make adequate progress in English proficiency or maintain a high GPA, they get support to instead apply to other institutions with less rigorous standards.
Griffin urges administrators considering such programs to think holistically about supporting international students once they arrive. Northeastern offers a targeted tutoring center, specializing in writing support, and the university assigns specific advisers to each international student.
"Different resources, things to really support their success on campus," Griffin said, "are crucial."
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