The Department of State defines short-term programs as programs that “last 12 months or less and include university exchange programs, professional non-degree programs, and internships.” The purpose of these programs is to “learn and enrich yourself in a diversity of cultural settings.” These programs can take place as an exchange between a university as part of partnership agreements for students or professionals. Participants can take courses that can be counted toward a degree or to gain a certificate in recognition of newly gained skills. Sometimes these programs offer internship or research opportunities.

However, with the changes in the education market, we see an increased offering of short-term English programs. The purpose of these programs is usually to learn the English language skills and getting cultural exposure. Usually, these programs offer English classes embedded with opportunities for cultural field trips and excursions to tourist attractions. For many IEP programs, these short-term programs became the primary source of income as a way to maintain their existence as well as meet the newly developed needs of the market. Different programs, regardless of whether they are part of a university or independent IEP program, approach the creation of these programs differently.

Ms. Cheryl Wheeler, Program Director of International and Academic Programs at UWC2, and Ms. Debbie Rozner, Director of ESL Center at Kent State University, shared their experiences and perspectives that one may consider when creating an IEP short-term programs.

How do you approach the development of a short-term IEP program? What are some aspects you consider?

Cheryl Wheeler: One person should be responsible for the developing of the program. Have the client complete one specific survey with information with basic questions to have the base conversation. As a host, you have to ask about the price point and use that information to create the budget from there. There’s no point in running a program that the client can’t afford or has unrealistic price expectations about. Always make sure you write the budget first to see that it pencils out. If it is a customized program- there is a baseline for a minimum charge. For example, this is the amount we need for 30 students and the client will pay for 30 students even if they don’t actually send 30. Do not let the program pricing go below a base fee that you can live with.

Debbie Rozner: Short term programs are all about customization, in our experience. Whether it’s designing a program at a group’s request or putting together an offer to attract participants, the idea is to gauge what the group wants and deliver that outcome.  For this reason, we consider the needs/interests of the group we will be serving and then design and align in order to meet expectations. That being said, expectations have to be tempered. It’s important to be clear about what a program promises to offer from the outset.

How do you handle the curriculum? Do you develop different curriculum every time or do you try to join them to the existing program?

Cheryl Wheeler: There has to be a content expert available at the university to write the curriculum, otherwise UW would not offer a program. The expert writes curriculum for a fee and UWC² then owns the curriculum and can have someone else teach it in the future if needed. Sometimes students can join existing programs at UW but the client is usually requesting customized classes and it doesn’t always work to join the existing classes. We don’t usually add field trips unless there is an existing event happening at the university. This requires extra staff work to put together special events and field trips. We give the students a list of all the things happening in the area and remind them to go twice weekly or so. If it is a program for low proficiency students, then we would have a student worker guide the students to events.

Debbie Rozner: When possible, we communicate with the groups for whom we are developing the program before their arrival to get a sense of proficiency and language learning goals. We customize curriculum in broad strokes to design a program that matches needs, but we always leave room for curricular and program tweaking. Once participants arrive, you have to take personality and group chemistry into account. Also, additional expectations and interests are revealed, so the curriculum and instructors have to remain flexible. For example, pacing and materials may need to be changed up a bit.

Do you add field trips or extra entertainment?

Cheryl Wheeler: We don’t usually add field trips unless there is an existing event happening at the university. This requires extra staff work to put together special events and field trips. We give the students a list of all the things happening in the area and remind them to go twice weekly or so. If it is a program for low proficiency students, then we would have a student worker guide the students to events.

Debbie Rozner: Field trips can be great enrichment opportunities for applying language skills ‘in the field’. Field trips destinations can be simple like going to area restaurants to experience an American breakfast, renting bicycles or kayaks to take in the local scenery, and doing meet and greets with interesting people and places on campus.

There are often unexpected happenings during a program. What has been a good overhead percentage to charge that does not inflate the price too much but does cover the unexpected?

Cheryl Wheeler: UWC² has tried many different approaches over the last 15 years and currently their finance department sets the total overhead charged at approximately 30-35% of the gross amount that a client pays. We have the option to change the overhead figure slightly if need be, but it is rare. If the program developer sees the price to the client is unreasonable (which is usually not the case with 30-35% overhead), the program developer can add or remove services based on whether the budget will cover the expenses.

Debbie Rozner: It is important to be realistic. There are limitations to keep in mind when deciding whether a program is feasible. Some requests for proposals ask for the moon and stars at a bargain cost. You have to know what you are capable of delivering well and at what price. 

How do you handle short-notice requests for short term-programs?

Cheryl Wheeler: This is not our favorite – we normally want at least 6 months advanced notice, but if need be then we do it. If there is a rush job, it is critically important to have one person do all the setup and planning so nothing is forgotten.

Do you have a dedicated person who handles the short-term program development and execution? 

Cheryl Wheeler: We have two full-time program directors/developers. It is hard to say how many people will be needed in a year. They can run perhaps 4 complex programs with 1 person in a year.  If a simple short-term IEP, it could be 1 person for perhaps 20 iterations of the same program. They don’t recommend temporary staff do this work. Consistency is important and if people who do it change all of the time then there may be no reflection moment and lesson learned.

Debbie Rozner: For our short-term programs, we’ve needed to collaborate with campus offices in new ways. Together we coordinate housing, meals, transportation, registration, collection of program fees, insurance, etc. Being involved in the detail level is helpful for addressing small problems as they come up.

How do you handle all the logistics: transportation, accommodation, meals, and field trips?

Cheryl Wheeler: UW always has the same people do this. It’s best to have a core team of just two people, a director and an operations person, who are familiar with the project. If more than that, there is typically more confusion or opportunities for error. Once the project is organized, we utilize more people who are assigned specific tasks (make this reservation, take the students to this event, etc.) by the director or operations person.

In regards to visa regulations, how do you determine how much "class time" students have during short-term programs?

Cheryl Wheeler: Usually, 18h in the classroom is full time and anything under that is not- F1 eligible. Sometimes UWC² runs non-F-1 visa eligible programs but these have to be obviously non-academic (15 or fewer hours per week, and three weeks or shorter). In regards to visa regulations, how do you determine how much "class time" students have during short-term programs? We don’t have a specific J visa staff person in our office but we collaborate with UW International Support Service. When setting the visa type for the program, UWC² always expects the client to say what they want academically. What the client wants students to learn will define the type of program and the desired visa type is not allowed to be a factor in the type of program (for example, UW will not try to redesign an academic program into a touristic one if the client hopes to avoid students needing to get student visas).

According to Wheeler some final words of wisdom to consider are:

  • Make sure finance, registration, and operation staff know what is happening before you make a decision to run the program,
  • Make sure nothing has changed operationally--especially how you set up the budget.
  • Always make sure one person is primarily responsible for each program.
  • Make sure a written signed contract include the deliverables and what will not be delivered. Carefully detail the responsibilities each party agreed on. UW has a contract specialist revise and rewrite contracts with each client as well as each department. For example, there is a contract with an overseas university that is separate from a contract with a UW university department.
  • Always make a timeline of actions to do before during and after the program (student registration process, PDSO approval, financial reconciliation, etc.) and assign specific people with whom the program developer checks to make sure the tasks are done.

An example of a checklist that Ms. Wheeler graciously shared includes the following criteria:

Steps and Tasks

  • Finalize official program name 
  • Create a program budget
  • Create a program proposal
  • Complete Operations Checklist
  • Finalize LoA and distribute internal announcement about new program happening
  • Create a working group for the new program
  • Communicate program policies to stakeholders (e.g., sharing student handbook, program website, etc. - especially, IELP version of Student Code of Conduct and attendance policies)
  • Draft instructor position descriptions (all types of instruction)
  • Hire instructor for English instruction position(s)
  • Hire instructor for content (non-English) instruction position(s)
  • Draft instructor contracts
  • Onboard and instructor training
  • Schedule regular meetings with program team
  • Document program for SEVIS (update based on program proposal sent to the client, if applicable)
  • Create an application form
  • Create registration form
  • Create Admissions packet
  • Guide instructor(s) doing curriculum development 
  • Finalize course approvals
  • Finalize courses and fees
  • Create program timeline
  • Create a program manual to document procedures and policies
  • Create shared communication tools (e.g., email account, Yammer or MS Teams group, if/as needed)
  • Develop program events plan (with events lead)
  • Request Canvas program and course set-up for program (if applicable)
  • Program Survey(s)
  • Develop attendance and grade tracking plan (if needed)
  • Save completed curriculum and associated documentation
  • Design completion award
  • Determine/develop a transcript model
  • Train staff for ongoing management 

In conclusion, these suggestions may be something you are familiar with or something that may not work for your situation; however, it certainly is a great starting point when considering short-term IEP be that for summer or throughout the academic year.

References and Additional Resources

Education USA: U.S. Short-term programs. Retrieved 3/15/2020.


  • Cheryl Wheeler, Program Director for the International & Academic Programs at UW
  • Debbie Rozner, Director of ESL Center at Kent State University