Three Challenges to Competing in the IELP Market

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IELP programs provide vital new revenue streams, but must be implemented carefully

International English Language Programs (IELP) are not built with a snap of the fingers. The best ones are built out over time and revised every year based on past successes and failures. Higher education leaders in this field deeply understand this student segment and have the necessary budget to market to them in a way that resonates.

Schools competing in this marketplace face a set of distinct challenges when attempting to compete for these students. Below are three of them:

1. The IELP market is lucrative so institutions must compete with numerous other players in the field

Globalization has enabled hundreds of sources from every continent to deliver English language education. No longer confined to higher education institutions, IELP has popped up in businesses, MOOCs and more. When you add in the leading market players in the American education sector – five percent of which host the majority of international students in the country – programs are faced with the daunting task of differentiation. To succeed in the IELP industry, institutions must capitalize on their assets and market themselves strategically to attract greater cohorts of international students.

Here is what one administrator had to say about this:

The new competitive landscape in international higher ed is also shaped by a range of changes that impact the velocity of entry and the number of new entrants in the sector… At the international level, countries in Asia — which appear to be in a different phase of the macroeconomic cycle — have been able to invest in building the capacity of their higher ed systems. These capacity-building efforts have looked beyond the expansion of the supply and also focused on improving the quality and reputation of local higher ed systems. This means it could become increasingly difficult for western higher ed institutions to attract international students from these countries.

– Vangelis Tsiligiris, College Principal, MSB College of Crete

2. IELP programs cannot be created with a one-size-fits all approach

IELP programs are distinct from an institution’s degree and diploma programs. Students bring different cultural expectations, varying life experiences and unique needs for support services to the table, even before enrollment. Institutions must be prepared to adapt creatively and look at the bigger picture of the student lifecycle. Beyond tweaking marketing and admissions processes to fit the distinct needs of international students, institutions must also ensure that their curriculum, their staff and their administrative processes are able to meet the requirements of the IELP market.

Here is what one administrator had to say about this:

An [IELP] curriculum is not static and must evolve over time to meet the changing needs of the program and its students…. Given the day-to-day workloads of instructors and IEP managers, it’s difficult to find the time and financial resources to support curriculum development. Consistent implementation of curricula is especially complicated when programs rely on part-time instructors who often are not available to provide input or attend meetings.

– William Gaskill, Director of the American Language Center, UC Los Angeles Extension

3. IELP programming is a long-term effort with long-term rewards

IELP programs vary in length, but the long-term benefit for students and institutions alike is well documented. Many of the international students that enter an IELP program move on to enroll in an institution’s degree or diploma program. The long-term enrollment potential is tremendous, but in order to reap these rewards, institutions must create programming with the necessary foresight to ensure a program will be stable, competitive and adaptive in the long run.

Here is what one administrator had to say about this:

It’s very important to understand that if an institution does want to [enter the market] that it’s moving into a mature, highly-competitive marketplace. It’s absolutely critical to put aside and be willing to dedicate the institutional resources from top to bottom toward entering this market. You’ll find there are many institutions abroad that have already been working with universities and with colleges and community colleges for many years.

– Beth Greenwood, Associate Dean of International Programs, UC Davis Extension


As the demand for English language training continues to grow worldwide, higher education institutions must be strategic when creating their IELP programs and marketing to international students. A well thought out strategy that recognizes the barriers to implementation will guide institutions towards success in this market.

To learn more about the barriers higher education institutions face when entering the IELP market, download this eBook.

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