Pathways Programs Boost International Student Success

Many people believe that the key to success and fulfillment is education, and international students are no different. In fact, many international students say the best path to a better career and life begins with earning a degree from a U.S. college or university.

Students from other countries say that attending a U.S. institution gives them a unique, and often more prestigious, educational experience than they could get in their home countries. Likewise, officials at American colleges and universities say that international students help to diversify their campuses, thus providing a richer education for everyone. However, while some international students have the intellect, skills, and qualifications to be competitive for admission on their own, others might have those same abilities, but lack the necessary language competency or other skills needed to be successful.

Study Group, an international student recruitment and educational services company, provides solutions in such situations. Through establishing an on-campus international study center, Study Group offers programs aimed at helping international students gain academic strength and sharpen language skills so they can be admitted to and continue studying at institutions in the United States & Canada, Australia & New Zealand, and England & Europe. The company’s pathway program is dedicated to helping universities to establish a pipeline of international students. In 2016, Study Group helped 70,000 students from 163 countries achieve their education goals.

According to company officials, the United States is the top educational destination for international students. The company recruits international students to a number of U.S. institutions, including Baylor University, the City College of New York, James Madison University, Merrimack College, and Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. On campuses where Study Group has their international study centers, students are provided a supportive environment where they receive English language instruction, work on study skills, and take courses on adjusting to life in the United States.

Study Group's partner institutions in North America report an overall average progression rate of 95 percent and an average matriculation rate of 96 percent, which officials say indicates the success of the company’s model. Study Group officials recognize, however, that the same approach is not appropriate for each of their partner institutions. Therefore, the company has a flexible partnership model—not a “one size fits all” structure.

Study Group is very deliberate and selective about the institutions with which it partners to ensure that it will be an effective match. Before forming partnerships with universities, the Study Group team considers a number of factors, including an institution’s range of program offerings, its level of safety, how welcoming it has been to international students, and the matriculation rates of current international students.

If Study Group feels that a worthwhile partnership can be formed, working groups are established in operations, marketing and recruitment, academics, and leadership. "We spend a lot of time prior to contracting with our partner universities to make sure there's a cultural fit and similar philosophies, and that our teams will work well together," says Emily Williams Knight, Study Group's managing director of Higher Education North America.

Great consideration is put into hiring the faculty members who work in the international study centers. Teachers are required to have a master’s degree in English as a second language or a related field with a TESOL certificate. Study Group aspires to recruit instructors with international education backgrounds, who are well versed in pedagogy, and who can meet the unique needs and learning styles of international students.

Taking care of students means helping them achieve academic success. "We work with students so they are prepared for English and cultural differences," says Ellen O'Brien, VP of Academic Affairs and Operations at Study Group. Students are supported so they can integrate socially and academically. "Faculty who are teaching pathway students after they've completed the program just know they are great students who are motivated and who value education."

"It is essential that our teachers be dynamic in the classroom,” says Lauren McConatha, Study Group’s director of academic initiatives. “Our teachers must also be collaborative as our model is based on building relationships across Study Group and university faculty."

When taking credit earning courses, the pathway students are mixed in with the rest of the university's students. During the first year, pathway students live in residence halls that are open to all students, easing the transition into regular campus life. Before the students can move out of the pathway program, they must take assessments and meet specific learning objectives in the disciplines in which they plan to major.

Dana Eleusizova, currently a Hospitality Management student at James Madison University (JMU), says of her time in the JMU International Study Center when she first arrived from Russia, “I had an opportunity to meet with other international students who were just in the same exact situation as me. I could make friends and learn a lot from them, and we could help each other.”

During their first semester at a university, Study Group pathway students generally take two or three English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classes and one or two credit bearing university classes. If successful, they take fewer EAP courses in their second semester and more credit bearing classes. While each pathway student takes the same courses in the study centers, readings and assignments are aligned to particular majors. “I wasn’t so overwhelmed, and just looking out now at what I’m doing, what is happening… it guided me a lot and it helped me,” says Eleusizova.

An example where Study Group has shown flexibility in its pathway model is its partnership with the University of Vermont’s Global Gateway Program. In 2013, UVM reached out to partner with Study Group. The university wanted Study Group to provide recruitment and support services, while the University would contol the academic program, from admissions standards and decisions to design and delivery of the Global Gateway curriculum. "Study Group’s openness to working with us on our own terms has been very much appreciated and beneficial to the program’s success,” says Gayle Nunley, Vermont’s director of global educational initiatives.

Since partnering with Study Group, Vermont has seen its international student enrollment increase by 53 percent. Students who entered through Global Gateway are being inducted into honor societies, taking leadership roles on the campus, and succeeding academically. Among the more than 270 Global Gateway students who have successfully matriculated to UVM, the retention rate is 94 percent, and cumulative GPA across the cohort is comparable to campus-wide outcomes.

In a world where globalization is a reality, the opportunity for universities to have international students as part of their student body has great financial and cultural benefits. Study Group offers its partners flexible pathway options and access to decades of international experience and academic excellence. And for the international students seeking to forge their paths, including a small taste of the American dream, the partnerships between Study Group and its North American partners provides them a welcoming, supportive environment to succeed academically and achieve their goals.