Among the difficulties freshmen face when they first arrive at Princeton is meeting Princeton’s high standard for academic writing. Though we understand that Princeton’s mandatory writing seminars aim to prepare all students for this increased rigor, the Board believes that the University should provide more resources for those students who have learned English as a second language in order to help them meet this rigorous expectation.
The University’s application process aims to ensure that students who matriculate here are well-equipped to complete essays in English. Excluding those who attend an English-language school, applicants who are non-native speakers of English and who did not attend an English-speaking high school must demonstrate their English proficiency by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language as well as the SAT or ACT plus writing. However, critics of the TOEFL argue that the test fails to evaluate a student’s ability to construct a complex argument in English, which is an imperative skill for academic writing here. Of course, not all non-native English speakers at Princeton struggle with constructing complex arguments in their essays, and the writing seminars bolster the argumentative writing abilities of all freshmen. However, ESL students face the intrinsic challenge of a language barrier, which makes it especially difficult to produce high-quality academic writing.
Princeton already addresses this barrier for graduate students by providing the graduate population with many ESL resources. The Friends of Davis International Center sponsors multiple levels of English language classes tailored to international graduate students. With group and individual classes and tutoring, the center provides ample opportunities for graduates students who need ESL learning assistance. Moreover, the McGraw Center offers its English Language Program, a comprehensive program tailored toward oral skills. These and other opportunities are valuable resources, but many of them are unfortunately limited to or tailored for graduate students.
Thus, the Board hopes that the University will adapt some of these resources and tailor them toward the undergraduate population. Many of the opportunities already provided for graduates students would need little change content-wise but are held at inconvenient times or locations for undergraduates; adjusting these two parameters would easily attract undergraduates. Moreover, those resources that are specifically targeted to graduate students as a matter of policy, such as McGraw’s English Language Program, should be made accessible to undergraduates.
Moreover, the Writing Center could expand its services to also include specific appointments for students who would like to focus on their ESL issues. Students could be able to request these sessions separately online, and these sessions would involve writing fellows who specialize in assisting ESL students and who could focus on the unique challenges that such students face. The Board recognizes that such an offering would currently fall outside of the Writing Center’s purview, as its current sessions aim to help students with the writing process and such larger issues as argument construction and organization. However, we believe that offering services to ESL students would be a worthy extension of the Writing Center’s services.
Princeton should be taking steps to help non-native English-speaking students succeed at Princeton. Though Princeton does seek to ensure that all undergraduates have sufficient grasp of the English language by evaluating TOEFL results, this practice certainly does not guarantee that all undergraduates will face no language barrier. Simply expanding current graduate offerings or the Writing Center’s services would allow some international students to be more academically successful at Princeton. Because Princeton has an interest in the academic growth of all its students, the Board urges the University to expand its ESL offerings.