Hoping to boost declining enrollment figures at Ventura County’s community colleges, Oxnard College is tapping into a new market--foreign students.
Trustees recently approved leasing space in the middle of campus to the FLS Language Centres, a private Alhambra-based company that teaches foreign students to speak English and then encourages them to enroll in American colleges.
The FLS school opens in September to about 20 students from as far away as France, Italy and Japan, who will take the intensive class in trailers on campus. Trustees hope that after learning English, those students will transfer into the community college district.
“I applaud this,” said Trustee Norman Nagel as the Ventura County Community College District board approved a 60-day trial contract with FLS earlier this month. “I think it’s a good mixture of public and private enterprise. Hopefully in the future we can attract more foreign students.”
But some Oxnard College faculty members say they were left out of the decision-making process and fear the program will compete with English language programs that already exist on campus.
“It’s a matter of quality control,” said Lynn Fauth, who chairs the Oxnard College Language Arts Department. “If somebody is going to be teaching English on the campus, whether or not that person is an official employee of the college or the FLS school, the person will be perceived as being a member of the department of which I am the chair. I think we could do as good a job of training these students, if not better.”
Ronald Jackson, vice president of student services at Oxnard College, said the contract with FLS is the culmination of a pursuit of foreign students that he began more than five years ago. He said that FLS was the most persistent foreign language school and has one of the best reputations.
The school targets college-age students who plan to transfer to American colleges but do not have the English skills to do so. It provides five hours a day of instruction, followed by total immersion in American culture through field trips, seminars and lodging with American families. FLS has several sites in California, including Alhambra, Arcadia, and on the Citrus College campus in Glendora.
Jeanne Hamilton, Citrus College vice president of student services, said school administrators thoroughly researched the program before agreeing in May to welcome it to their campus.
“The advantage to us is the income from the rental and that we do hope that students will enroll in our college once they complete the FLS program,” Hamilton said. “We haven’t worked with them long enough to determine if that will happen.”
FLS President Dal Swain said about 75% of his students enter an American junior college when their English becomes good enough, a process he said takes an average of 10 months.
“We recommend the two-year colleges,” Swain said. “The community colleges have got so many more services and smaller classes. They are better prepared for international students.
“It also really helps American students to broaden their horizons,” he said. “Kids who go for two-year degrees might not otherwise meet kids from another land.”
Jackson also touts the financial benefits of attracting foreign students.
“They would pay out-of-state tuition and that’s extra revenue,” Jackson said. “They will be staying here and going to grocery stores and movies and spending money in the community like students do.”
Swain said opening a site on the Oxnard campus will spread the college’s name to the international community. ‘We spend a tremendous amount of money recruiting foreign students,” Swain said. “Smaller community colleges can’t spend that much.”
Some faculty members wonder how many of those students will remain at Oxnard College once their English skills are up to par.
But what has Oxnard teachers more upset is that they were not contacted by the administration until a six-month contract had been hammered out. Protests from faculty this summer led trustees to shorten the contract to a 60-day trial period. Language arts chairman Fauth said that has left some faculty feeling that the trustees were trying to sneak something by them.
“That’s the perception on campus because it was first broached in November, but the first the faculty heard about it was in June,” Fauth said.
Fauth said most teachers are waiting to see how the first two months of the program work. Swain said he does not blame the teachers for questioning a new program on campus. He said FLS instructors have a master’s degree in English and most have studied or taught abroad.
“I’m really mystified as to why the teachers feel there might be some competition,” Swain said. “It’s absolutely no risk.”
FLS already serves about 80 students at its Citrus College location, a goal Swain has for Oxnard College.