Exploring the benefits of a university pathway program in a US higher education context

21 May 2021
Posted by Study Group

Exploring the benefits of a university pathway program in a US higher education context

The US is globally renowned for the quality of its higher education provision. In the 2021 edition of the QS World Rankings, just under half of the leading 100 universities in the world are in America, with five US higher education institutions in the global top 10. American institutions have a reputation for high academic standards and for following rigorous practices to maintain educational quality, a standing that attracted over 1 million international students to study in the US in the 2019 – 2020 academic year.[1]

Recently, the US has become an even more appealing higher education study destination for international students. Under the new administration led by President Joe Biden, the US has overturned a controversial travel ban on several predominately Muslim countries and has implemented an extremely effective nationwide COVID-19 inoculation roll-out program, with over 274 million people now vaccinated. Encouragingly, the Chief Medical Advisor to the American President, Dr Anthony Fauci, has stated that everyone in the US who wants a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to receive one, including international students.

With more than 3,900 Colleges and Universities in the US, there is a myriad of institutions and courses for international students to choose from. In the American higher education system, students have the freedom to not only select the course content but also the structure of their program. For example, at an undergraduate level, learners have the option to pursue different academic disciplines in their first year before declaring a ‘major’ subject at the end of their second year of study. The advantage of this is that students can explore a variety of topics before deciding which academic area to focus their studies on.

In the array of choices available, international students who are looking for more English language learning support and study skills acquisition before embarking on a US degree have the option to study in a university pathway program. These programs are intentionally designed with international students in mind. By enrolling in pre-selected classes, students can start earning credits towards their degree from the outset, whilst giving them the best possible chance of academic success. These programs are designed to help students culturally adapt to the US, whilst gaining confidence in their studies and improving their English skills. They also provide learners with the opportunity to complete their degree program in a similar timeframe to direct-admit students.

As Joshua Rubin, Study Group’s Executive Vice-President for Higher Education in North America explains:

“International students studying an undergraduate pathway program can earn almost as many credits as direct-admit learners, as pathway courses typically offer 22-26 credits over two semesters, in comparison to the 24-30 credits that a direct admit student would take.

“Due to the flexible US system, students can very easily make up the small gap in credits by overloading in a future semester or taking a class or two during the summer. This means undergraduate students who start in pathway programs can complete their degree in four years.

“Pathway programs are also advantageous for international students as they provide extensive support and a concierge service to pathway students and this experience is evidenced in all our student satisfaction surveys, which consistently exceeded well in advance of 90%.”

An excellent support system for international students

Pathway programs are designed to meet the unique needs of international students and therefore include the following key benefits to support academic course and cultural integration:

  • Small class sizes: of between 5 and 18 per group.
  • A dedicated advisor: throughout the duration of the international student’s pathway program.
  • Careers and social support: with access to employment advice and orientation and extra-curricular activities.
  • Access to a dedicated welfare team: who gets to know the students personally and are on hand to support them to access the relevant university services.
  • Specialist instruction from teachers and support staff: who are trained and highly experienced in working specifically with international students.

Thu Nga (Neena) Nguyen from Vietnam, talks about his experience of studying a Study Group pathway program at James Madison University in the US:

"We take university credit and International Study Center credit classes, which prepares us for the college experience and living in America.

"We also had advice sessions, where we learnt about life on campus, and found out what we needed to do to get our degree.

" All that information really helped me, because if I went directly to James Madison University, I would have no idea about the different academic requirements. It helped me make the transition to university and become a typical sophomore."

Dr. Linda Halpern, Vice Provost for University Programs at James Madison University shares her view:

“The pathway program that James Madison University operates in partnership with Study Group has been in operation for over a decade.

“In that time, I have known very many international students succeed in their university careers because of the academic and social confidence they developed in our International Study Center.

“Students build strong relationships with their peers, expand their English abilities, and earn academic credit in the pathway program.

“There is a special benefit in having time to acclimate to US educational and classroom expectations.”

Joshua Rubin adds:

“At Study Group, through talking over the years to hundreds of international students about their experiences, we understand the challenges they encounter when embarking on studying overseas as well as what is important to them. As a result, we provide services that ensure students can make the best possible start to their time studying in the US.

“For example, we take great care to connect pathway program students to societies and groups, which align with their interests and design the courses to include a cultural syllabus, to help students understand US society and aid their cultural adaptation. We focus on supporting students to make vital connections with their peers so that they have a comprehensive and diverse network of friends from all over the world, for life.

“In many cases and crucially, pathway programs give international students who do not meet the academic or English language entry requirements the opportunity to start earning credits towards their degree program, whilst accelerating their academic attainment and developing core competencies in all four key English language skill areas (i.e., listening, speaking, writing and reading).   This allows students to start their studies without delay, whilst simultaneously improving their English language skills, thus setting them on the path to fulfil their all-round academic potential.

“Ultimately, the success of pathway programs in a US higher education context is evidenced by the numbers. It really is a proven path to success, with progression to a degree program consistently above 90% - numbers that most universities are unlikely to achieve for their own first-year international students. This is because a pathway program allows international students to adapt to US-style teaching and develop their academic skills whilst in a safe and highly supportive environment.

“It is like a built-in family, which is really nice to have when students first arrive in a new country; as they already belong to a community with a support network in place to welcome them and get to know them from the outset – they are not alone.”

[1] Open Doors Report, 2020

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