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In the World

CELOP celebrates 30 years of international education

Reaccreditation in 2005 and rejuvenation in 2006

Margot Valdivia, center, CELOP director, discusses the program with Sun Young of Korea (left) and Cheng-Ya Chang of Taiwan.

In its 30 years, BU’s Center for English Language and Orientation Programs has faced some challenges standard for any higher education institution, such as increased competition from overseas and a changing student profile. Other trials, however, have been specific to a program designed to help foreign students transition into American university life.

“Our business is very vulnerable to what happens in the world, politically and economically,” says Margot Valdivia, CELOP’s director. “We’re impacted by everything that happens outside the United States.”

Over the past decade, CELOP has experienced both its best and worst years — before and after 9/11, respectively — and the program is still rebounding from a 40 percent enrollment drop in late 2001 and early 2002. But at the end of last year, CELOP’s status as one of the longest-running and highest-rated English-language study programs in the country was confirmed by two events: the 30th anniversary of its founding and reaccreditation by the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation.

“It epitomizes the fact that we are a successful program,” says Valdivia. “It is really a fact that we are one of the top schools in the country.”

CELOP is one of 51 accredited programs nationwide and the only one of the three in Massachusetts affiliated with a college or university. More than 1,200 students, representing 50 countries, have enrolled this year, and next year’s enrollment is expected to top 1,400. Depending on their interests and goals, students might study television news broadcasts to improve general language skills, tour the Boston Stock Exchange to observe the idiosyncrasies of business English, or participate in mock doctor-patient conversations to gain comfort and fluency.

The student population has varied significantly over the past 30 years, says Valdivia, who has been with CELOP since 1975. In the 1970s, the program had many Iranian students and many Venezuelan students, who received scholarships from the government institution Fundación Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho. In 1985, the Hariri Foundation, led by the late prime minister of Lebanon and former Boston University trustee Rafik B. Hariri (Hon.’86), sponsored hundreds of Lebanese students who came to CELOP to study English. In the 1990s, the booming economy brought students from all over Asia.

Now, as CELOP climbs out of a decline, the program is faced with increasing competition from other English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. To remain competitive, CELOP now offers nine full-time programs catering to different types of students, from health-care professionals to those pursuing MBA degrees.

"Its successful reaccreditation reflects on CELOP’s well-qualified and experienced faculty and staff, its excellent facilities and resources, [and] outstanding student services — including academic advising, student performance monitoring, and organized academic, social and cultural activities,” says Urbain DeWinter, the associate provost for international programs.

The reaccreditation, which stands until 2015, is particularly meaningful now, says Valdivia. For the first time since 2001, foreign families are beginning to feel comfortable sending their children to the United States again, and she hopes that CELOP can continue to play a role in fostering international communication.

“We feel that we really prepare students for success in professional and academic life,” she says, “but also that we really help students open their minds globally.”