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UMaine Intensive English Institute lacks funding to continue serving students

While the members of the University of Maine System work to create a plan of action for students and faculty as the fall 2020 semester approaches, many departments of the UMaine campus have been placed under financial strain as the university copes with the loss of over $12 million in incoming funding.

In a letter to members of the academic affairs faculty forum, Faye Gilbert, the executive vice president for academic affairs, announced in mid-April that the UMaine faculty had made the decision to realign the UMaine budget and eliminate the services provided by the Intensive English Institute. The department was created in the mid-1980s to prepare international and English as a Second Language (ESL) students for success in courses taught mainly in English.

“We have … taken the difficult step of discontinuing our services with the Intensive English Institute (IEI). Our needs to align budgets, combined with reduced demand, led to taking this critical step,” Gilbert said. “We will fulfill our obligations to current students and are looking for creative options to have those who need work in English and who want to join us at UMaine to be able to participate or audit classes.”

According to James McCarthy, who currently works as a tutor at the UMaine Writing Center assisting students with papers, resumes and other documents, the IEI was a great resource for international students. McCarthy, who had worked with the IEI from 2012-19, noted that he had worked with several students from extremely diverse backgrounds, including students hailing from European and Middle Eastern countries.

“The goal of the IEI is to provide assistance to students who do not attain a high enough score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) entrance exam to be matriculated into a full-time undergraduate or graduate program,” McCarthy explained. “The program [helped] students gain proficiency in English, in order to pursue a bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate in courses primarily taught in English.”

McCarthy noted that, due to the support of the IEI, many students who are able to pass the TOEFL and go on to pursue higher education degrees are also able to bring in grants and funding opportunities for UMaine as they pursue research, which benefits UMaine research opportunities. He also noted that many of these students will return to their home countries after attaining a degree in higher education and are able to bring back skills that directly impact the economic growth of their communities.

“In the past five years, [the number of enrolled students] at the IEI decreased. This may be attributed to many issues,” McCarthy noted. “The lack of economic support for Chinese students, the chaos of [Middle Eastern governance] combined with political issues in [Central and South American] countries have all been factors that have impacted the ability of students to study in the United States. I think this highlights the need for [UMaine] to support these students … and participate in active recruitment.”

The IEI had previously offered opportunities for international students to connect with funding opportunities such as the UMaine Bridge Program, which seeks to ease the transition into university life for incoming students as well as many other opportunities for expanding their experiences while attending UMaine.

“My first contact with a mentor [on the UMaine campus] was at the IEI,” Juliana Tavora, a Brazilian graduate student, said. “Everyone at [the] IEI was very excited to share its experience with us students. I worked on a research proposal for a summer fellowship sponsored by the Center for Undergraduate Research in 2014. Our project got funded and led to my capstone research and a journal publication. UMaine is the place I learned a second language, where I got my first research proposal granted and the institution where I returned for my master’s degree … UMaine is very important for my academic career.”

“I don’t want to call it shameful,” McCarthy noted. “But it’s certainly a shame.”

Although the IEI will no longer be providing the same resources to incoming students as it previously had, it will continue to support the students who are currently utilizing its resources. Gilbert has stated that the UMaine faculty is seeking feedback from concerned community members on ideas for reorganization, interdisciplinary options and cost efficiencies in order to continue to serve and represent UMaine students in a meaningful way. However, as the university seeks a way to restructure budget allowances in order to serve the UMaine community, the future of transitional ESL-serving programs at UMaine is yet to be determined.

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