Budget deficit closes ESL center

Mehgan Lee

Noshin Askani, an international student from Iran, took English as a second language courses at the Minnesota English Center to refresh her English.

But Askani, who will be a first-year student at the University this fall, said she was disappointed that teaching assistants – rather than experienced professors – taught the classes.

Askani is one of a number of students affected by recent cuts to the University’s ESL program, which will close the Minnesota English Center and have already laid off eight ESL professors.

The center offered ESL noncredited courses to international students who wanted to study and improve their English, said William Hellriegel, the center’s director.

But the center has not been financially viable for the past few years, said Charles Speaks, the director of the Institute of Linguistics, English as a Second Language and Slavic Language and Literature.

“We have deficits and enrollments have been declining,” he said.

In 2002, the center had a program deficit of $10,000, he said. In 2003, he said, the deficit was slightly more than $29,000.

Since 1999, enrollments in the center have dropped 37 percent during the academic year and 43 percent in the summer, said Arlene Carney, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

“This is a time of very serious budget constraint at the University,” Carney said. “All of our

students are paying higher tuition. We are obligated to look at any program that isn’t serving students as efficiently as it should.”

There will still be ESL courses for international students at the University, Hellriegel said, but they will be credited.

This means students must be admitted to the University to take them, he said.

“Credited courses will be more cost-effective because they will generate tuition income,” Hellriegel said.

The University did not receive tuition from the Minnesota English Center because it was a fee-based and self-supporting program, he said. The University, he said, subsidized the center with $85,000 to $90,000 a year.

The number of ESL classes will drop significantly in the fall, said Arlys Arnold, one of the ESL professors being laid off, as she packed her office and desk into cardboard boxes.

The University currently has 24 to 28 ESL classes per year, she said. In fall, that will decrease to 11 classes per year, she said.

But if ESL enrollment increases and there is a demand for the classes, Carney said, the U will open sections to accommodate that demand.

Graduate students have also been affected by the center’s closure.

“A key feature (of the center) was the fact that we got a chance to practice, to get teaching experience, under highly trained mentors,” said Mike Hinrichs, a first-year graduate student in ESL and teaching assistant at the center.

“That’s basically being pulled out from under us now,” he said.

At the beginning of the summer, a professor helped Hinrichs teach ESL classes, he said. But that professor has since been laid off and Hinrichs must finish teaching his summer classes on his own.

“It’s been difficult for me to come in and take over somebody else’s class,” he said.

Askani has started a petition, now signed by 15 students, to voice unhappiness over the closing of the Minnesota English Center and having summer ESL classes taught by teacher’s assistants.