The demand for quality higher education is soaring around the world. International students arriving in wealthy, English-speaking countries such as the United States increase in number each year. The rapid economic development of countries around the world like India, China, and Brazil has created new wealth for families wishing to send their children abroad for studies but world-class universities are in relatively short supply. With the ingrained asset of being the lingua franca home to the English language, countries such as the U.S. and the United Kingdom actively encourage the recruitment of international students. Overseas pupils must pay full tuition, and this source of revenue for American and British academic institutions is big business. Higher education represents a significant industry, generating £25.4 billion ($39.4 billion) in revenue for the U.K.

In order to recruit more international students, some U.S. colleges are trending toward for-profit companies. In addition to outsourced recruiting, some universities are partnering with these companies to create hybrid “pathway” programs, which feature credit coursework and instruction in English language and academic skills. The ideal for a pathway program is to provide a comfortable stepping stone for international students, who may generally lack the English abilities necessary for regular admission to university. They can simultaneously make progress towards a degree and address shortcomings in English language skills – including specific TOEFL preparation – while adjusting to a new academic and social culture. Some programs will even pick up inbound students from the airport upon their arrival.

Each pathway program uses a different model, but they often have students meeting standards set by the institution and not the partner company. Admitted students are done so conditionally, and will take English courses concurrently with academic coursework. Pathway programs are popping up around the U.S., with varied for-profit partners. The University of Massachusetts at Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, Oregon State, and West Kentucky University (WKU) are several American institutions which have gone with partnerships with private firms in order to ramp up international recruitment through such programs. Partners include Kaplan, Inc. and a host of other American, British, and Australian companies such as Navitas and INTO University Partnerships.

With many universities strapped for cash in the U.S., any system that increases overall revenue could be considered. The pathway program idea has met with some controversy, however. Many partnerships – like the one between WKU and Novartis – stress the fact that pathway program instructors must meet WKU's minimum standards and generally be selected from the university's current faculty. Resistance to pathway programs has grown among some faculty unions, as they see any outsourcing of teaching functions as competitive. They also resist a university providing a “back door” to students who possess English language abilities and test scores that would not qualify them for regular admission.

As pathway programs continue to spread in popularity, a debate springs up for U.S. colleges: can student interests be best served by taking advantage of private-sector expertise through outsourcing programming, or trying to increase their own in-house capacity to be better recruiters and supporters of international students.

The biggest noise in the U.S. comes from the Britain-based INTO University Partnerships, currently operating at nine British universities and signing contracts with Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of South Florida (USF). The INTO model shares costs, profits, and management with its partner universities 50-50, with instructors remaining employed by the university, which maintains academic control as well. However, INTO's growth into the U.S. market has worried instructors at university-based intensive English programs, who watched as the long-standing English language institutes at OSU and USF were folded into the INTO OSU and INTO USF programs. Headlines were made when the Commission on English Language Accreditation then canceled the accreditation of both OSU and USF English language programs. Reaccreditation processes are pending, and will rely on the universities supplying appropriate proof that the new hybrid programs still meet the requisite standards.

Even with this controversy, the INTO programs at OSU and USF are growing and taking root in their respective institutions. The Oregon State partnership with INTO in fact has the goal of doubling its international student enrollment, which has decreased after September 11. International students mean full tuitions and higher revenues for universities, and these institutions will continue to look to for raised international enrollment. Recruiting can be time-consuming and expensive, and many institutions do not have the resources to do it on their own. Defenders of the pathway program point to that pairing as the place from where their recruiting-academic hybrid springs. More robust program offerings are a natural extension of their current services.

Some universities simply do not want to share the profits of international students with private sector partners. They deem international students coming to the U.S. or the U.K. as a growth industry, and are looking to enhance their current in-house recruiting and transition programming. While some institutions look to build their own capacity, and others outsource through the private-sector, overall they are responding to increased global demand for quality higher education. One thing is certain: New opportunities for educators exist in English language instruction as innovations and developments occur in college level ESL.