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Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

U can’t keep up with influx of int’l students

Staff say cutting the master’s ESL program is another blow to international language support.

Despite the recent influx of international students at the University of Minnesota, resources like composition classes and student services have not been able to keep up with demand.

The number of international students at the University has quintupled since five years ago, with about 2,350 students enrolled in fall 2011.

Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert McMaster said having a percentage of international students total above 5 or 6 percent of the University strains academic resources.

International students make up almost 8 percent of the student body, according to University data.

McMaster said there is concern among some colleges about resources available for international student success.

âÄúTheyâÄôre concerned that they donâÄôt have the resources in place to make sure that the learning is as good for international students as it is for domestic students,âÄù he said.

A âÄòbottleneckâÄô

Kit Hansen receives more than a dozen emails each semester begging to get into her English composition class, followed by a few âÄúdoe-eyedâÄù students petitioning for permission numbers.

Due to the significant increase in international students, there are not enough sections of the non-native English composition course, said Sheryl Holt, writing coordinator for non-native speakers of English.

She said the course, a requirement for international students, cannot meet the demand, which has tripled.

A âÄúbottleneckâÄù has been created in the non-native speaker sections offered because upperclassmen register first, Holt said. She said freshmen have a tough time getting into those classes.

The number of upperclassmen in HansenâÄôs non-native English composition writing class has increased dramatically. She said more than half of the students in one of her spring sections are juniors or seniors.

âÄúThe freshmen are a minority,âÄù Hansen said.

The increase in international students has hit hard all around.

About 93 students show up to walk-in hours at International Student and Scholar Services, said interim director Barbara Kappler, and only five staff are there to accommodate them during the less than three hours allocated each day.

She said the huge increase in volume has been hard on both staff and students.

âÄúThose are pretty significant changes,âÄù Kappler said. âÄúThereâÄôs no question that the campus is adjusting.âÄù

The cancellation of the masterâÄôs degree in English as a Second Language was another blow to international language support.

Hansen said the program, which is the only one in the state to focus on higher education, is a direct feeder into international student support at the University. Both she and Holt hold degrees from this program, as do most of the other teachers of the non-native English composition course.

On Jan. 10, graduate students in the UniversityâÄôs department of Hispanic linguistics sent President Eric Kaler, College of Liberal Arts Dean James Parente and other administrative staff an email containing 100 testimonials against the decision to halt admissions to the masterâÄôs ESL program.

In a return email on Jan. 13, Parente responded, saying it was a hard choice given budget constraints, but it was done âÄúfollowing careful consideration.âÄù

âÄúâĦ We have decided to focus our limited resources toward promoting second languages, literatures and cultures elsewhere,âÄù Parente wrote.

More staff for more sections

Holt said there is a backlog of about 500 international students who cannot get into the composition class, creating an urgent need for three more staff members to teach the course.

Currently, there are about seven sections offered in the fall and five sections in the spring that serve 21 students each.

Nanette Hanks, assistant dean of curriculum for CLA, said more sections of the non-native English speaker course were added in fall 2009.

She said raw data showed a need for more classes so international students could get into freshman writing during their first semester.

âÄúWe didnâÄôt want those students to move on without having taken freshman writing,âÄù she said.

Hanks said they were successful in preventing a backlog because those additional sections were maintained for a couple years.

The difference

Some international students delay their freshman writing until later years, with about half of international students in the class sophomores or above, Holt said. Others take freshman writing for native speakers.

Going into a native English writing course isnâÄôt bad, Holt said, but these courses often have cultural references, which disadvantage the international student.

Sophomore international student Yanzi Zhu took the native English composition course. He said while heâÄôs confident in his grammar, at times it was hard to understand American slang.

Hansen said most of the teaching of non-native composition classes focuses on âÄúbridging cultural gaps,âÄù as well as grammar, sentence structure and styles.

âÄúWe do not focus on correcting their English,âÄù she said.

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