The Student and Exchange Visitor Program released long-anticipated draft guidance about conditional admission and bridge, or pathway, programs on Thursday. Students admitted to the growing numbers of these programs typically have to complete an intensive English sequence or, in the case of bridge programs, a combination of ESL and academic coursework, prior to being fully admitted into a regular degree program. In such cases, many colleges have made it a practice to issue an I-20 -- a document that prospective students present in applying for visas – certifying a student's admission to a regular degree program even if that student starts out in ESL. However, the new draft guidance suggests they will no longer be able to do this, as an I-20 can only be issued for a program for which a student meets all admission requirements.
"School officials may agree to admit a student into a program of study pending satisfactory completion of admission prerequisites via another program of study (such as, a bridge program or English language program of study)," the draft guidance states. "However, a student must meet all admission requirements for the first program of study and then transfer to the next subsequent program of study upon successful completion of the prerequisites. At all times, the student must meet all admission requirements for a program of study prior to...issuance of the Form I-20."
The draft guidance also outlines acceptable standards for bridge programs, which some universities run in cooperation with other entities. The guidance would require all schools involved in delivering a bridge program to be SEVP-certified. And while a university may contract with another SEVP-certified institution -- such as an ESL school -- to provide English training or other nonacademic aspects of the program, all academic coursework must be governed by the university issuing the I-20.
"We are going through it very carefully. It is quite an extensive document," said Patricia Juza, the director of global programs at Baruch College and vice president for advocacy for the American Association of Intensive English Programs. "We’re impressed by the level of detail and the amount of legal foundation for some of the explanations."
"There are a couple of things that might require some institutions to change business practices slightly, such as with bridge programs, I don’t believe from the research we’ve done that all colleges and universities that have bridge programs issue distinct I-20s for those currently," she said. A few outstanding questions she has include how this new guidance would affect graduate students, specifically, and the impact on students who are admitted into a degree program but are found to need additional ESL training after arriving on campus.“ We’re not clear whether that school has to issue a new I-20" in that case, she said.