The American Language Institute (ALI) is still recovering from the tightened immigration laws that have affected their student applicants because of the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001 and the institute’s payments to San Francisco State.
Due to widespread fear among potential foreign students of being treated with suspicion once entering the United States and the immigration hurdles to get student visas, the ALI experienced a slash in its student enrollment by 40 percent in 2003.
In addition, lack of classrooms and adequate classroom size to accommodate its students has been a continuous concern to ALI officials and a difficult decision to manage for San Francisco State administrators.
“We provide academic and cultural skills for students who want to attend American colleges and universities,” said Dr. H. Douglas Brown, the director of the American Language Institute. “We’ve become a kind of gateway to San Francisco State for students of other countries.”
The American Language Institute was founded in 1961 and it provides intensive language skills to international students and a unique highly regarded master’s degree through its Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL) program.
The ALI curriculum provides courses in reading, writing, grammar, cultural skills and TOEFL preparation. Its classes are divided in four levels, from low intermediate (TOEFL 325) to advanced classes (TOEFL 600). Class size averages between 15 and 18 students. Around 20 percent apply to San Francisco State upon completing their program at the ALI, and 21 percent transfer to other institutions.
“All of our teachers are in the TESOL program, whereas at some other institutions that teach English teachers are not even required to hold a B.A. degree,” said Peg Sarosy an ALI academic coordinator in reference to what makes her institution different from its competitors.
“The best thing about ALI is its environment,” said Shelley Ruby, 28, a teacher who teaches advanced speech and listening. “Everybody is collaborative and every teacher is extremely helpful,” said Ruby. She said she loves working with ALI administrators. “They are very good mentors.”
The 22-hour per week program for students not only teaches English; it also emphasizes cultural skills for students to succeed in the American college system.
Nicole Frantz, an ALI program coordinator and student advisor, said students also learn multimedia programs and how to write academic papers. In addition, students learn how to interact with teachers in the classroom the way domestic students do.
“I am comfortable with my classmates and teachers, and everybody is very friendly,” said Jun Igarashi, 24, an ALI student from Japan who holds a degree in economics. At the end of the semester he plans to return home to work on his field.
“Teachers care about you and they let you express your opinion,” said Wansika Phukmeetong, 28, an ALI student from Thailand. She is enrolled in an intermediate class and plans to transfer to a four-year institution.
To Ga-Ryung Park, 19, an ALI student from South Korea, said cultural skills have not been difficult for her because Americans have influenced most cultures.
When these students return to their countries of origin, it is likely they will spread the experience they had at the ALI to their home campuses, ALI officials said.
The American Language Institute relies on the students’ fees for institutional survival. It is an organization affiliated with San Francisco State but it does not receive any financial support from the university.
“All our revenue comes from the students but 30 percent of it goes to the university,” said Dr. Brown.
In 2000, the ALI payments to San Francisco State rose to 30 percent, up from 14 percent. The ALI budget for 2004 is $750,000.
Fee increases to students enrolled at the ALI rose modestly, some 5 percent to 10 percent, said Dr. Brown, adding there has not been any fee increase in the last two years.
The ALI charges $2,750 for the spring and fall semesters. In the summer semester it charges $2,400.
All ALI students have access to San Francisco State facilities, such as the gyms, the library and the student health center.
The American Language Institute is a small program linked to SF State through the College of Extended Learning and to the English Department at the College of Humanities. It housed up to 150 students per semester in the late 90s. For the present fall semester only 100 students are enrolled, the majority coming from the Asian region.
But if budget constraints and immigration hurdles that dwindled students’ enrollment post Sept. 11 were not enough to hit the ALI, San Francisco State’s policy in regard of classroom allocations also hurt ALI’s expansion.
“One of my concerns is that the administration doesn’t give us the kind of priority we would like to have,” said Dr. Brown.“They give us what is left over,” Brown said in regard of classroom allocations, “and that’s a physical constraint.”
“That’s not going to change,” said Ray Paton, administrative operations assistant of the Academic Affairs department.
Paton said it is the policy of the university to give priority to classes that teach regular university classes and that decision comes from the provost office.
In the fall of 2003, the ALI officials requested 10 classrooms and the school’s administration gave them seven; this year, the ALI got eight classrooms, Paton said.
He also said there are lots of space during 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m., besides the weekends.
“The reality is,” Paton said, “as long as the demand for regular university classes is high it will be impossible to change the classroom arrangements with the ALI.”
That situation does not keep Dr. Brown from planning a better time for his institution.
“By the end of 2005 we should be back to normal,” he said. He also said he dreams of a set of classrooms he can count on to expand, to make the American Language Institute more visible on campus.
And in budgetary terms he dreams of a lower payment to San Francisco State. “But I guess I am dreaming too much,” said Dr. Brown.