English Faculty Publications

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Literacy in Practice: Writing in Private, Public, and Working Lives


Widespread emphasis on internationalization in higher education has generated tremendous growth in international student enrollments at U.S. colleges and universities. In fact, from 2002/2003 to 2012/2013, the number of international students in the U.S. increased from 586,323 to 819,644, an increase of almost 40% over ten years (Institute of International Education 2013). These students are primarily multilingual, contributing varying levels of English proficiency and, often, a new sense of institutional diversity. In addition, these students often pay out-of-state tuition, making it possible for the university to diversify tuition streams as well.

Partially motivated by these realities, and in order to attract and retain greater numbers of international students, many U.S. universities have developed various forms of "pathway" programs designed to support conditionally or provisionally admitted multilingual students as they advance their academic English proficiency and pursue undergraduate or graduate course work (in either degree or nondegree status).

As such programs arise, discussions of how best to determine pathway students' English-language proficiency and academic readiness have arisen. Some university stakeholders appear interested in minimal language testing, crafting the easiest path into the university for prospective students. Others, however, argue that pathway students' English proficiency should be assessed in order to determine these particular students' admissibility and potential for retention and completion. Proponents of these stricter progression requirements argue for policies and program structures that require all pathway students to demonstrate a minimum English proficiency prior to full academic study. Still, others claim that any skills-based assessment of students' English-language proficiency is inadequate and inaccurate, forcing the reduction of something fluid, uneven, and complex-language learning-into something discrete, measurable, and reportable.

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