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The number of international students enrolled in intensive English programs in the U.S. fell by about 50 percent in the 2020 calendar year compared to the year before, according to new survey data from the Institute of International Education presented Wednesday during the virtual NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference.

Julie Baer, a research specialist for IIE, said this decline is similar to or smaller than drops reported in intensive English enrollment in other leading destinations for English language study, including Australia, Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom.

“Based on reporting from colleagues in other leading host destinations for intensive English, there have been declines ranging from nearly 50 percent to over 80 percent over the past year,” Baer said. “While these destinations may have used different definitions for how students were counted year over year, what is clear is that COVID-19 has been an external shock that has resulted in significant declines across the entire English language training market globally.”

The vast majority of intensive English programs that responded to IIE’s survey -- 91 percent -- are either governed directly by a university or are operated by an independent provider affiliated with a university.

For many international students, intensive English programs are a first step on the road to enrolling in an undergraduate or graduate degree at a U.S. university. IIE found that 54 percent of international students enrolled in intensive English programs in the U.S. in 2020 intend to enroll in undergraduate or graduate programs in the U.S.