Augustana’s English Language Services program on its way out

ELS to close

Early exit: ELS to halt programming at AU because of low demand


Augustana’s English Language Services program, which opened last September, will close less than a year later, on July 14, the result of a nationwide decrease in ELS students.

Negotiations for a partnership between Augustana and ELS began two years ago to create a pathway into the university for students not at a college-level language fluency.

Augustana provided classroom space in the Humanities Building and Madsen Center while ELS hired its own teachers.

“By bringing ELS to campus, it allowed us to attract students in a cohort of whom are academically prepared, but [whose] English language skills just aren’t to a level yet where they can be successful enough in an university classroom,” said Donn Grinager, director of international programs.

Classes at Augustana’s center commenced in September. ELS students stay for four weeks, learning English in an intensive environment while living in Augustana’s campus housing. There are typically 1-3 students per session.

Silmara Baruffi, an agronomist from Brazil, was one of the first ELS students at Augustana. In an email, she spoke highly of her experience at Augustana’s center.

“I was able to improve my knowledge of the English language and to know more about the culture and habit of the American people…,” Baruffi wrote, “I’m feeling really sad about the program closing.”

ELS is a 56-year-old private organization which establishes educational centers across the globe, often based in college campuses. There are roughly 70 ELS centers in the U.S., but now Augustana’s center, the only one in South Dakota, will close along with seven others.

Ben Iverson, the ELS Center Director at Augustana, said the current strength of the U.S. dollar has shrunk the market for English learning providers.

“Right now it’s probably twice as expensive to study in the U.S. as it was two or three years ago, exclusively because the U.S. dollar is so strong right now,” Iverson said.

Iverson also said sinking oil prices in the last two years strained Saudi Arabia’s national budget, causing the Saudi Arabian government to dip into scholarship funds.

The King Abdullah Scholarship typically funded 90 percent of Saudi students’ study abroad expenses. Now, tighter restrictions on the scholarship have impacted the numbers of Saudi students studying at ELS centers across the U.S.

Augustana’s center in particular, Iverson said, battled geography when recruiting students from overseas. While many international students know of New York City or Los Angeles, few know of Sioux Falls.

“In a challenging market, it just becomes an even harder sales pitch when you are not in a globally known geographical location,” Iverson said.

Although Augustana’s ELS center is closing, Grinager said Augustana remains a partner with ELS and will maintain a relationship with the organization in the future.

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