English Language Institute closing due to declining enrollment


Nate Yonamine | Senior Staff Photographer

The Parkvale Building on Meyran Avenue, which houses the English Language Institute.

By Elizabeth Primrose, Senior Staff Writer

Eungyeong Choe, a student in the English Language Institute’s Intensive English Program, is not happy with the upcoming closure of the institute.

“I am sad and very upset,” Choe, who is from South Korea, said. “It is very helpful to international students, including me. My classmates also have talked about this sad news. We are willing to study English.”

This is Choe’s second semester in the IEP. After initially participating in the community conversation classes at the ELI, Choe said she decided to enroll in the IEP for a more intensive approach to studying English. 

“In the conversation course, we speak in English, but we are not sure how correct our grammar is or how correct the word is,” Choe said. “The intensive program is high quality classes. Many teachers are focusing on real, practical English.”

Pitt’s IEP has served more than 14,000 students from more than 130 countries since 1964, according to the institute’s website. But the institution will not be around much longer.

Dean Kathleen Blee sent a letter to the Department of Linguistics, notifying them that the English Language Institute will cease operations on June 30. Faculty members, including Scott Kiesling, chair of the Department of Linguistics, and Dawn McCormick, director of the ELI, want to find ways to still provide the services the institute offers. 

Dean Blee’s letter cited declining enrollment in the IEP as the reason for the decision. According to the letter, “this decreasing demand has impacted the institute’s ability to sustain itself financially.”

“Over the past two years, the leadership of the ELI and the Department of Linguistics have been in discussions with the Dietrich School Dean’s Office regarding the impact of declining enrollments on the ELI’s continued operations,” the letter said. “The University has made several attempts to bolster enrollment numbers, however after much consideration, the Dietrich School has made the difficult decision to close the unit.”

The IEP provides English training to speakers of other languages, according to Kiesling. The IEP includes full-time students, part time students and special programs where foreign universities or companies send groups to Pittsburgh for individually designed English instruction. These students are not enrolled in the University and are only considered enrolled in the ELI. 

Kiesling also said the ELI financially supports itself independently from the University. Kiesling said he plans on meeting with Provost Ann Cudd soon and requesting support of the ELI for another year so that he and others have time to reorganize and plan.

Kiesling said enrollment in the IEP is “cyclical” in nature and world events such as 9/11, SARS, the Iraq war and the Russia-Ukraine war have all impacted the ability of international students to enroll in the program.

Kiesling further explained that enrollment in the IEP fell dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the enrollment numbers are now increasing, but are nowhere near pre-pandemic numbers. According to information provided by Kiesling, The ELI had 150 IEP students enrolled in fall 2016. This number fell to around 120 students in fall 2019, and to between 30 and 40 students in both 2020 and 2021. This fall, the IEP had a little more than 80 students enrolled. 

“COVID and some other world events have been a lot deeper,” Kiesling said. “It has taken longer to come back.”

According to Kiesling, the ELI offers numerous other services in addition to the IEP. For instance, the ELI supports English language testing for international teaching assistants and offers specialized English as a second language classes for students in the Swanson School of Engineering and the School for Computing and Information. The ELI also offers certificates on teaching English to speakers of other languages.

Kiesling said the ELI had plans to offer a cultural program for incoming undergraduate students to learn English and about the American education system this summer, but he is not sure if it will still occur.

McCormick said two programs offered by the ELI, which facilitate conversation between ELI students and undergraduate students at the University, will also cease to exist with the closure. These programs allow for undergraduate students to talk with ELI students either in a group setting, with the “Talk Time” program, or one-on-one, with the “Conversation Partners” program.

“University students can volunteer to talk with international students so that they can learn more about students from other countries, maybe practice a foreign language or get a new perspective on the world,” McCormick said. “So those would be examples of options that would no longer be possible for undergraduate students.”

While Kiesling said there is not an exact plan on how to continue offering the services with the closure of the ELI, he said he hopes to finalize conversations related to restructuring within the next month or two.

Kiesling also said closing the institute would impact the University’s international reach.

“One of the things we are disappointed about is that this is one of the programs that really sends good feelings of Pitt, Pittsburgh and the United States to the world,” Kiesling said. “In terms of diversity, global outreach and goodwill, I’m really disappointed in the whole thing. It’s sad if this has to go away for a short term monetary gain.”

Alan Juffs, who served as the director of the ELI from 1998 until 2020, said closing the ELI is “going against the Plan for Pitt in diversity at the international level.” 

“The University currently claims to be focused on diversity and inclusion,” Juffs, a professor of linguistics and director of graduate studies, said. “However, the abrupt closure of the ELI does not match this rhetoric. The University wants to attract international students, but is not willing to invest in trained, experienced and dedicated faculty who have given so much to support this endeavor.”

McCormick said she thinks the ELI should still remain as a unit at the University, but wants to 

talk with the University about its needs and work with them to create an alternate solution if the current structure of the ELI is not sufficient.

“I can propose a model, but if it really doesn’t fit the University’s needs, it’s not going to work,” McCormick said. “We really welcome the opportunity to work with the University to think about what kind of an ELI we should be for the future of Pitt.