Originally Posted April 24, 2012. Updated May 3, 2012, June 29, 2012, July 13, 2012, October 4, 2012.

On April 21, 2012, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) posted a notice explaining its plans for ensuring compliance with Public Law 111-306, the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act (Accreditation Act).

The Accreditation Act requires Intensive English Language Programs (IEPs) to be accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education. The law became effective on June 12, 2011 (180 days after enactment), but there were provisions that gave nonaccredited intensive language training programs that were already SEVIS-certified one year from date of enactment to apply for accreditation by a Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency. To allow time for the accreditation process to be completed, the law also allows F-1 students to enroll in such nonaccredited programs for three years after enactment, provided the program had applied for accreditation by December 14, 2011.

SEVP has grouped IEPs into two categories: Stand-alone English Language training programs of study, and Combined English Language training programs of study. Stand-alone refers to SEVIS-certified schools that offer intensive English language instruction in their own facilities and as their only course of study. Combined programs are intensive English language “programs of study affiliated with another SEVP-certified institution either through a contract or incorporated into the institution’s offered curriculum.” The latter group would include most colleges and universities with ESL programs.

According to the notice, SEVP has already begun issuing Notices of Intent to Withdraw (NOIW) certification to unaccredited Stand-alone programs that did not apply for accreditation by December 15, 2011, and are thus not in compliance with the IEP Accreditation Act:

“SEVP is currently issuing Notices of Intent to Withdraw to stand-alone English Language training programs of study not in compliance with the Accreditation Act. A Notice of Intent to Withdraw is an official notification to the English Language training program that it must submit evidence, within 30 days of the date of service, that the English Language training program is in compliance with the Accreditation Act. English Language training programs that fail to submit adequate evidence of compliance will have their SEVP certification withdrawn and will not be eligible to enroll nonimmigrant students nor be able to issue Forms I-20 for English Language training programs of study.”

SEVP also plans to conduct “out of cycle reviews” of Combined programs, to evaluate those programs’ compliance with the accreditation law.

“Combined English Language training programs of study will receive an out of cycle review. An out of cycle review requires a school to submit evidence to SEVP within 30 days of service of the notice or be found to be out of compliance with SEVP requirements. Combined schools who cannot meet the evidence requirements of an out of cycle review will receive a corrective action plan from SEVP requesting the removal of their ESL program from their Form I-17 and will have to stop issuing Forms I-20 for their ESL programs. Combined schools who do not comply with the corrective action plan will receive a Notice of Intent to Withdraw and may subsequently have their SEVP certification withdrawn.”

Since 2008, SEVP can conduct "out-of-cycle" reviews of a school. "Cycle" refers to the recertification cycle that occurs every two years. An "out-of-cycle" review is simply a review of all or part of a school's activity that occurs at a time other than recertification, and is one way that SEVP exercises oversight of SEVP-certified schools. While sounding new, SEVP and INS before it have always had the authority to review a school at any time to determine its continued eligibility for certification. The 2008 SEVIS fee and recertification rule systematized this authority at 8 CFR 214.3(h), labeling it "out-of-cycle" review, to distinguish it from the review that occurs during the recertification process.

An out-of-cycle review can occur when information that may impact a school's certification is brought to the attention of SEVP. This can happen in two ways:

  • When a school updates its Form I-17
  • Any other time that SEVP wishes to verify a school's compliance with regulatory requirements

And so, if you have ever updated an adjudicable field on your Form I-17, you have already experienced a type of “out of cycle review.” Typically a review consists of SEVP sending a Request for Evidence (RFE) to the school, asking for specific kinds of documentation.

The April, 2012 notice states that “SEVP is still working on determining the accreditation of all its certified English Language training programs,” but the notice lacked specific standards or guidance on how SEVP plans to determine compliance with the IEP Accreditation Act, or the types of documentation that it will be requesting from Combined programs.

On April 18, 2012, NAFSA sent a memo to SEVP, urging them to re-assess such an approach to applying Public Law 111-306, and to:

  • Communicate its policies regarding the applicability of the IEP accreditation law to the public, either through the regulatory process or through formal written policy guidance with an opportunity for public input.
  • Properly take into account the law’s legislative history, which describes two ways a language program can comply with the law: “First, they can be under the governance of a university or college that has been accredited by a regional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Or, second, they can be individually accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) or the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA).”
  • In developing its policies in this regard, incorporate basic principles of institutional accreditation, such as the non-discipline-specific nature of institutional accreditation and the purpose of Department of Education substantive change rules for accrediting bodies.
  • Work with accrediting agencies to develop protocols and set expectations so that SEVP’s needs can be met without needlessly disrupting the work of schools or the accrediting bodies.

On June 29, 2012, SEVP posted a set of draft Frequently Asked Questions in response to the many inquiries it received from the academic community following SEVP's April, 2012 notice regarding compliance with the IEP Accreditation Act. SEVP accepted public comments on the FAQs until July 20, 2012. On October 3, 2012, SEVP released a final version of the FAQs, which discusses the kinds of documentation SEVP expects a school to submit if asked to show that the school's ESL program is in compliance with the Accreditation Act. The FAQs reproduced below cover the most common type of questions. You should also review the other FAQs in detail.

 

What evidence must I submit if my school offers only English language training programs of study?

SEVP defines a school that offers only English language training programs of study as a "stand-alone" school and will require a designated school official to submit evidence from a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education that either the English language training program possesses or its officials applied for accreditation by Dec. 14, 2011.

What evidence must I submit if my school offers an English language training program of study that is wholly owned, operated and governed by the school?

A designated school official at an English language training program of study that is governed by the university or college must provide evidence from a Department of Education-recognized regional or national accrediting agency that the English language training program of study possesses or its officials applied for accreditation by Dec. 14, 2011. If the school offering the English language training program of study has institutional accreditation, then a designated school official may provide evidence (e.g., letter, statement or certificate) from the institutional accreditor that the English language training program falls under the umbrella of approved programs for which the school received accreditation. The evidence from the institutional accreditor must specify that the accreditor recognizes the English language training program of study. School officials may also submit an official document that annotates all of the school's accredited programs. Additionally, SEVP will ask a designated school official to submit a signed statement by the school's owner, president or head that the English language training program of study provided is governed by the institution.

What evidence must I submit if my college or university contracts the English language training program out to an independent English language training program provider?

If a school's English language training program of study is not governed by the university or college or is not wholly owned and operated by the school, SEVP will ask a designated school official to submit evidence that the English language training program provider possesses or has applied for accreditation by Dec. 14, 2011. SEVP will also request the following information:

  • name of the entity offering the English language training program of study;
  • whether the independent provider of the English language training program of study is SEVP-certified for the enrollment of nonimmigrant students;
  • a copy of the contract between the school and the entity offering the English language training program of study; and
  • a statement clarifying whether the school or the contracted entity is responsible for the issuance of the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, to nonimmigrant students for English language training programs of study.

What if my institutionally accredited school added an English language training program of study after receiving its initial accreditation?

After receiving its initial accreditation if a school added an English language training program of study, SEVP will request evidence that a designated school official has appropriately reported the program addition and that the addition is in compliance with the reporting requirements of the accrediting agency. Also, SEVP will review whether a designated school official submitted an updated Form I-17 to add the English language training program of study.