ACCESS Program Aims to Expand Mason’s International Student Population

Posted: August 12, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: August 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm

By Ethan Vaughan

Diversity has long been one of the hallmarks of life at Mason. Virginia’s largest university is home to students from all 50 states and more than 130 countries, a status that has won it a reputation as a melting pot, academically as well as culturally.

This fall, however, Mason will push its doors open even further.

The new ACCESS Program will combine intensive English language and American culture instruction with regular undergraduate course work for international students, who will be admitted to the university on a provisional basis.

“The university wanted to increase international student enrollment,” says Karyn Mallett, assistant director of the English Language Institute (ELI). “The administration determined that rather than go with an outside organization, we would design our own program, a move ELI supported. Our position was that we didn’t want to outsource English language instruction.”

ACCESS allows academically qualified international students with scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) that fall slightly below Mason’s requirements for direct admission to improve their English language proficiency in sheltered classes that ACCESS students attend in a cohort, says Mallett.

At the conclusion of the academic year, students who demonstrate success and English language proficiency will be eligible to continue their studies as fully-admitted students.

Given the unique aspects of the program, some special arrangements have been made.

“In addition to the class meetings having regular faculty members, there will be ELI faculty members there to jump in and facilitate conversation if needed,” says Mallett.

“The ELI faculty member stays with the students for 45 minutes after each class meeting to discuss with them and clarify anything that needs to be clarified. In that way, the students are getting intensive, course-specific academic and language content.”

Mallett adds, “The History 125 course that the ACCESS students take will be taught by Provost Peter Stearns himself, so there’s a lot of upper-level support and excitement about this.”

Rick Davis, associate provost for undergraduate education, emphasizes the standard to which ACCESS students will be held.

“The minimum TOEFL score required at Mason is an 88, which is very high compared to our peer institutions, many of which have requirements in the 70s,” he says.

“We don’t want to change that because it helps the international students succeed. However, we might miss the chance to admit many academically-qualified individuals whose English skills are a tad low. One approach is lowering our TOEFL requirement, but we don’t want to do that. So we’re creating a program in which students will have English instruction and support in addition to regular undergraduate courses.”

Davis says that the program, which will expand from 25 to 300 participants by 2016, will focus on meeting the needs of the students in and out of the classroom.

“There will be a high level of support, with lots of staff time devoted to the students,” he says. “We know there will be challenging moments. We’re there to help them with anything that comes up, be it academic, social or linguistic.”

Recently, Nicole Sealey, formerly director of graduate admissions and enrollment services for the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering, was hired as the director of the new Center for International Student Access, which is based in the Office of the Provost.

In this new role, among other things, Sealey will coordinate with ELI, Mason’s academic units and the international offices of University Life, in addition to serving as advisor to the students in the ACCESS Program.

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu