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INTO partnership costs USF program accreditation

When USF announced a partnership in January with a private, for-profit international firm to help recruit students from around the world, administrators glowed at the potential, holding a large kickoff event in the Marshall Student Center that welcomed leaders from around the world.

The program, known as “INTO USF,” aims to recruit international students and help them transition comfortably into college life. The USF English Language Institute (ELI) and its employees were moved under the new program’s wing so it could help sharpen new international students’ fluency skills in their first year at the University.

But there’s a problem: USF never let the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA), which accredits English language programs and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), know it was outsourcing ELI under the wing of INTO.

As a result, the CEA yanked the ELI’s accreditation – serving a blow to the University’s efforts to compete on a global scale and recruit international students through the private company.

When the University moved ELI, it changed the name to “Academic Education,” said Teresa O’Donnell, executive director of the CEA. And by shifting it under the wing of a private corporation partnership, she said, it jeopardized the accreditation requirements English language programs at public universities must meet.

“So the former English Language Institute was within the University and was totally controlled and governed and met all the standards through its division in the University,” she said. “Now that there’s the partnership with INTO, that is no longer true because the controlling factors are under INTO.”

However, Provost Ralph Wilcox said Wednesday night that he was disappointed with the decision the CEA made. He emphasized that other than recruiting, USF still controlled the program’s function, including curriculum, faculty and student development.

Those are three of 10 standards the CEA bases accreditation on. Others are facility management, administration and money handling. O’Donnell said that for-profit companies are starting to move into public universities – which receive money from the state and the federal government – and it is a concern for the DOE.

The CEA stripped Oregon State University of its accreditation because of its partnership with INTO, she said, so it isn’t the first time she has seen this. She said after checking with the DOE, she discovered that this is happening more and more in the U.S.

“Unfortunately, this new model just does not fit within our dichotomy of accreditation,” she said. “According to the DOE, we aren’t the only accreditation agency that has this happening, where these for-profit companies are coming into universities and making a case for a partnership through which they will do expanded recruiting and managing of the program. And all the Department of Education can say to us is that you can’t accredit this kind of program.”

Wilcox said he’s confident that the University can work to prove that it is handling the majority of INTO USF’s function – not the private company.

“It seems to me that the accrediting agency has made particular assumptions about changes in the program that we would – and will – explain,” Wilcox said. “Again, though we’re clearly disappointed in their preliminary decision, we fully expect that in the coming days and weeks … that we’ll be able to iron out the differences and reinstate the accreditation.”

The University never felt an obligation to inform the CEA of the move, Wilcox said, though it did send a letter in March after the partnership was struck.

However, O’Donnell said the CEA found out about the move on USF’s website. On one of the brochures advertising the program, it encourages international students to “study on university accredited programs.” O’Donnell said the CEA contacted USF to have the title taken down.

Without the accreditation stamp, it most likely will make it tougher for the program to compete against others that are accredited, an employee, who requested anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the matter publicly, said to The Oracle. The employee said INTO faculty was told by administration to not speak of the situation.

Wilcox said the accreditation title is something USF wants, but he also pointed out that Florida State and the University of Florida’s English language programs are not accredited. He said the University sent a letter to the CEA, which is based in Virginia, requesting to meet and work on regaining the accreditation title. The CEA has not decided if it will meet with university officials.

At the time of the partnership, USF officials hoped to bring in 300 international students – who will pay about $18,000 per year in tuition – for its undergraduate and graduate programs starting in August. The University ranks 81st in the country in international student population.

Under the agreement, USF and INTO are paying $4.5 million in start-up funds. Money comes from the USF Foundation. INTO’s investment is expected to last for the program’s first two or three years. USF and INTO will split all revenue 50/50.

The University plans to build a new INTO USF international study center, and Glen Besterfield, who is the former associate dean for undergraduate studies, was put in charge of the program.

Besterfield did not return multiple calls from The Oracle on Wednesday.