Accreditation for English Language Program Renewed

Certifying organization adapts its rules to accommodate USF program that “broke the mold.”


By Kevin Burke

Special to USF News


Tampa, FL (Feb. 6, 2012) — In a rare turn of events, the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) has reaffirmed accreditation for the University of South Florida System English Language Program (ELP). Nearly two years ago, the commission stripped the ELP of its accreditation because, at the time, it believed the program fell outside its scope of authority.


The issue — which necessitated a trip by Provost Ralph Wilcox to CEA headquarters outside Washington, D.C., in search of a resolution — centered on the university’s contract with INTO, a U.K.-based network of university-hosted study centers, to administer various aspects of the ELP on campus. At Wilcox’s intercession, the Commission agreed to re-instate the program’s sanction pending appeal.


“We broke the mold,” said Glen Besterfield, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the INTO USF Center. He explained CEA traditionally accredited “institutional” or stand-alone organizations dedicated to English language preparation, and “programmatic” efforts that are directly part of a college or university’s course offerings and subject to academic and administrative oversight.


“They just didn’t have a structure that recognized subcontracting some of these services, such as student recruitment, to outside entities,” Besterfield continued. “Even though we always maintained that we belonged within ‘programmatic’ because of the direct line of reporting that always has existed between INTO and the university. That is, the program reports directly to me and I report directly to the provost.”


So, what changed? In a word, the marketplace, according to Kathleen Moore, associate vice president for system initiatives.


During the past several years, organizations similar to INTO, including Kaplan Study Group and Navitas, have exploded within the United States, she said. They’ve also partnered with a growing list of American colleges and universities, among them Northeastern University in Boston, Western Kentucky University, the University of Utah, and James Madison University in the CEA’s backyard of Virginia.


“We were the first of this new model to test the standards,” added Moore, “and I believe the commission realized that if it didn’t broaden its terms, it faced an ongoing issue with the growing number of schools moving in the same direction.”


Moore said the university also consistently and forcefully emphasized its strong connection to the ELP, which always has been managed as a USF program. In his conversations with the commission, Wilcox stressed, as well, the university’s focus on quality assurance and its desire, therefore, for CEA’s seal of approval.


At its meeting in mid-December, the Commission agreed to take up a discussion about how CEA can offer programmatic accreditation to a university or college English language program when those institutions have contractual partnerships with outside entities to provide some services previously offered through the program. This led to a review of CEA’s scope of accreditation, as stated in its policies and procedures.


Ultimately, the members agreed to create a “third box” through the insertion of new language in the CEA’s previous definition of programmatic, which now takes into account “intensive English programs (IEPs) with a direct reporting line within the administration of universities and colleges, including community colleges, that are accredited by a regional or other institutional accrediting body.”


With the change also came the panel’s renewed accreditation of USF’s program for the next nine years, contingent upon the university’s continued fulfillment of the agency’s annual reporting requirements.


Although accrediting agencies routinely review and amend their policies to reflect new research findings, changes in pedagogy, and even advances in technology — online learning, for example — Besterfield said it’s almost unheard of that the rules are amended because of a differing interpretation by a specific institution.


“They agreed to maintain our accreditation and let us make our case,” summed up Wilcox of the commissioners’ review. “You never want to lose accreditation, particularly when one has confidence in the high academic quality of programs delivered, and we haven’t thanks to the commission’s willingness to hear us out and our own commitment to show that INTO USF and the ELP are vital core components of the USF community. We’re very grateful to the commission members for their careful consideration.”


Kevin Burke can be reached at 813-974-0192.