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UI’s English-language standard low in Big Ten

BY JORDAN FRIES | JANUARY 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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The UI’s language-proficiency admissions standards for international students are among the lowest in the Big Ten, but officials and students say it hasn’t affected the quality of education.

Each of the 11 Big Ten universities require the Test of English as a Foreign Language to be administered to students if English is not their first language.

But the UI is ranked 10th in the Big Ten, ahead of only Ohio State, regarding the minimum score required to pass the test and enroll in courses through the English as a Second Language program.

Gege Jin, a UI freshman from China who has been in the English as a Second Language program since August, said she was not aware of the UI’s distinctively low admissions standard.

“After taking the [English test], my English has been good enough to succeed in all my classes,” Jin said. “I haven’t felt behind in my speaking at all.”

The UI’s undergraduate admissions center requires a minimum score of 71 on the Internet-based exam and a 530 on the paper version before students can begin course work at the university.

The University of Michigan, with the second-highest standards, requires at least 17 points higher on the online test and 40 points higher on the paper test than the UI, according to its Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Northwestern University, which has the highest required score, asks for a minimum of 100 for the Internet version.

Excluding Ohio State, none of the other Big Ten institutions will accept an online score lower than 79 or a paper score lower than 550.

But Maureen Burke, the coordinator of the UI’s English as a Second Language program, said these statistics are misleading. Burke said foreign students can’t satisfy their English requirement until they take an English Proficiency Evaluation unique to the UI.

“We are continuing to re-evaluate this as we begin to move on and compare with other universities to see if our standard is high enough or not,” Burke said.

But until last year, the number of foreign undergrads was too low for officials to evaluate an overhaul in international admission standards, she added.

The UI saw a significant spike in international students, particularly from China, in the last year, and UI Provost Wallace Loh has said the university will try to garner more overseas students. The university is sending recruiting teams to 25 different countries.

Burke stressed international scholars would not be entering the UI unprepared.

Students unable to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language are enrolled in the Iowa Intensive English Program, a pre-academic course with six levels for students not yet ready for full-time university work.

Melissa Meisterheim, the teacher of the intensive class, said she instructs roughly 75 international students per semester, which proves the standards aren’t overly simple for everyone.


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