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English Language Center

English Language Center Policies

Welcome to the University of South Alabama English Language Center.  We are excited to have you as a student and as a member of the university and program community.  In order to help you become successful in your program related activities, there are a number of rules, regulations and procedures of which you will need to be aware.  If you have any questions about these policies or procedures, either in the ELC or here at the University of South Alabama, we will be most pleased to help you work through them.  We do hope that your participation in the program is a successful one and one that helps you reach the skills and goals you have set for yourself.


Class attendance is vital to a student’s success.  A maximum of three (3) absences are allowed in each course, not including excused absences accepted by the program director for medical reasons or an emergency.  Excused absences for medical reasons need to be documented by a physician.  An example of an excused absence for an emergency would be a documented car wreck.  Note that absences will not be excused because of personal business, such as driver’s license examinations, moving, vacations, travel or other similar reasons. Use your three unexcused absences for these purposes.

Four (4) or more unexcused absences will result in a grade of U (Unsatisfactory = failing grade) in the class. For ELC students, this means that a maximum of three (3) unexcused absences are allowed in an ELC term, generally 6-8 weeks.  For University students, this means that a maximum of three (3) unexcused absences are allowed in a semester.

Excused absences for medical reasons require submission of a valid physician’s excuse stating that in the opinion of the doctor, class attendance is not possible. The doctor’s note must give the dates during which the student is unable to attend class.  Absences due to an emergency must also be documented; for example, a car wreck must be documented by a written police report.  Note that in some cases, and on a case by case basis, the instructor or the program director may choose to send the documentation to Ms. Andrea Agnew, Director of Special Student Services (SC 270; Tel,: 460-7212), who will contact the doctor or other parties and verify that it is a legitimate medical excuse or emergency.

Punctuality is also crucial to student success.  If a student arrives late three (3) times, it will constitute one unexcused absence.  Furthermore, if a student leaves class early without previously arranged permission of the instructor, it will be counted the same as an unexcused absence.  Previously arranged permission means meeting with the instructor in ample time BEFORE class begins.

Make-Up Work

Students having excused absences for medical reasons or an emergency must make up all assignments within three (3) days of their return to class and demonstrate proof of achieving the language skills expected in the course in order to pass the course.

Late Arrivals

All new students admitted to the ELC program and ELC classes must arrive in Mobile PRIOR to the first day of classes in order to participate in the mandatory orientation, required placement exams, and registration activities.  Students who arrive late due to unexpected and unplanned but legitimate reasons have to make up the placement exams and complete all the requirements of the registration process.  Legitimate reasons include:  delays caused by US immigration secondary checks, delays caused by flight cancellations or missed flights, weather related delays documented family emergencies, health problems, etc.  However, delays due to scheduling a flight too close to the orientation and first day of classes for reasons of personal convenience will not be considered as excusable for late arrivals.  Students should plan on ARRIVING BEFORE the first day of orientation.  Be aware that latecomers cannot be accepted into the program after the first three (3) days of classes.

Likewise, current students who leave the U.S. and then return should arrive back in time for the beginning of classes.  Students should be aware of the class schedules and the first day of classes and should NOT schedule travel plans for personal convenience that involve late arrivals.  Latecomers cannot be accepted into the program after the first three (3) days of classes.

Payment of Tuition and Fees

All tuition and fees must be paid before the first day of classes for each ELC term.  Students who are studying on scholarship must provide a scholarship letter authorizing the ELC to invoice the organization awarding the scholarship, and this letter must be received PRIOR to the first day of class of each term as appropriate.  Students who are expecting a scholarship but who do not yet have the letter must personally pay all tuition and fees.  They can then be reimbursed after the letter arrives and the ELC receives the payment of tuition and fees from the organization awarding the scholarship.   NO reimbursement will be made prior to receiving the scholarship payment of tuition and fees.   If a student withdraws, there will be NO REFUNDS of payments after the first day of classes begins.  Students who must withdraw for MEDICAL REASONS may provide a written request for refund and attach original documentation for such medical reasons.  Any refund consideration for MEDICAL withdrawals will be made on a prorated basis, if approved.


International students at the University of South Alabama are required to be tested for tuberculosis and receive MMR inoculations (mumps, measles and rubella).  The TB test and the first MMR inoculation must take place before the first day of class.  Any student who has not complied with the immunization requirements by the first day of class will not be permitted to begin classes and thus will be out of status on his/her student visa.  Students who fail to comply with the USA immunization policy and who are withdrawn from classes due to this failure will NOT be eligible for any refund of tuition and fees.  Additionally, students who miss more than three days of class due to failure to comply with the immunization policy will not be allowed to return to classes for the term in question and will be out of status for US immigration purposes and must depart the US.

Final Examinations

Final examinations must be taken at the scheduled times at the end of the term.  The schedule of exams is posted at the beginning of each term and in the class syllabus.  Examinations will not be given early because of personal travel plans or other similar personal reasons.  Students who miss final exams will receive a grade of zero on the exam.

USA ELC ESL Academic Good Standing / Warning / Probation / Suspension Policies

Satisfactory academic progress is critical for all students participating in the USA English Language Center ESL program.  Additionally for students on a US F-1 visa, the regulations specifically state that students must always be making continual normal academic progress towards the course of study identified on their I-20.  (8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f) (5)(i) ).  The following policies apply to ALL students enrolled in the USA ESL program regardless of their US immigration status. Specific conditions however will apply to students in F-1 status.

US Immigration Requirements for F-1 visa Students

F-1 Students must be pursuing a full course of study and complete a full-time load each term, a minimum of four (4) classes.  (8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f) (6)(i)(A)-(E)).  This means that you must earn grades for these classes. For immigration purposes, incompletes are not grades. Incompletes are regarded by immigration officials as representing an individual’s voluntary inability or unwillingness to attend class and/or complete assignments. US immigration regulations do not permit international students to stop attending class or not complete coursework – this is considered evasion of a student’s  primary responsibility to be an F-1 student (mainly, to pass classes and earn a degree).

USA ELC Satisfactory Academic Progress

For all full-time students and specifically for students on an F-1 student visa, academic good standing, i.e., satisfactory academic progress, is defined as being enrolled full time AND achieving the grade of C or higher in two out of four classes each term, depending on the student’s required full class load each term.

Academic / Attendance Warning

A student will receive a warning at any time during the term if he/she falls below an average of 70% (C) in any class and/or has reached the maximum of three unexcused absences.  Students who receive an academic warning are in jeopardy of placing their F-1 immigration status at risk for failure to “maintain status” under US INA § 237(a)(1)(C)(i).

Academic Probation

1) If at the end of the term in which a student received an academic warning, the student still makes a grade of U in three out of four classes, regardless of whether the U is due to a low class average, poor attendance or both, the student will be put on academic probation and will receive an Academic Probation Letter advising a student that he/she must improve his/her grades and/or attendance the following term in order to maintain his/her US immigration status.

2) In addition, any student who receives a grade of U in three (3) or more of his/her classes, regardless of whether the U is due to a low class average, poor attendance or both, will be put immediately on academic probation, whether or not he/she has already received a Warning Letter.

Academic probation places students on F-1 visas in immediate jeopardy of having their US immigration status terminated (in SEVIS) for failure to maintain status.  By continuing to fail to make satisfactory academic progress a student will be suspended and not allowed to continue in the program (see Suspension).

Students on academic probation who wish to transfer to another institution should be advised that the institution they are transferring to may not accept them because the institution will be notified of their academic probation status at USA.

Note that "academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for program extension" (extension of the I-20) [8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(7)(iii) ]. And so, a student that has been placed on academic probation who is not able to complete his or her program by the program completion date, is not eligible for an extension of stay, unless other "compelling academic or medical reasons" exist to support the extension request.  Such reasons must be documented and approved in writing by the director of the ELC.

Academic Suspension

1) If, at the end of the Academic Probation term the student again makes a grade of U in three (3) out of four classes, regardless of whether the U is due to a low class average, poor attendance, or both, the student will be suspended from the USA English as a Second Language Program and in the case of students in F-1 status, his/her I-20 will be terminated in SEVIS.

F-1 students, upon suspension and termination of their F-1 status, must immediately depart the United States as their US immigration status in SEVIS is terminated. There is NO grace period.  According to US immigration regulations, if a student fails to maintain status, or withdraws from school or otherwise terminates or interrupts his or her course of studies without first obtaining written DSO approval (which is updated in SEVIS) the student is not eligible for any grace period, and is considered under the regulations to be out of status.  8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(5)(iv)  Such approvals for F-1 students are of course based on legitimate verifiable conditions as accounted for within the US immigration regulations.

2) Other reasons, in addition to those outlined in the USA ESL policies, for academic suspension/termination include:

  • for F-1 students: failure to maintain status and compliance with US immigration regulations,
  • an unexplained continuous absence for 10 class days or longer,
  • an unexplained failure to take final examinations or otherwise complete course requirements in all classes
  • disruptive behaviors and other academic/nonacademic activities as defined in and/or covered by the USA Code of Student Conduct and Academic Disruption Policy in the Lowdown and the USA Student Academic Conduct Policy (as published at  and at )

Students found in violation of the USA Code of Student Conduct and/or the USA Student Academic Conduct Policy may be subject to disciplinary and other actions by the University and/or USA ESL program which may result in their suspension or termination in the USA ESL program and thus, for F-1 students, subject them to termination of their F-1 status.

For students whose US immigration documentation is sponsored by other agencies, probation or suspension information will be transmitted (as appropriate under U.S. immigration, USA policies and procedures, and in accord with sponsor requirements) to the responsible agency for appropriate action.  For students on scholarship or funded by third parties, this information may be released to them based on the scholarship/third party agreement requirements that the student has agreed to.

Vacation Term and Maintaining Status

In accordance with US DHS immigration regulations, USA ELC has developed the following policy for international students on F-1 immigration status.  ELC students on an F-1 or J-1 student visa must be enrolled  as full time students in a full-time course of study (i.e., class schedule).  Full time for the ELC means twenty hours of class per week.  All F-1 students must be enrolled and pursuing a full course of study in order to be in compliance with the US DHS SEVIS immigration regulations regardless of whether the ELC or USA International Student Services is a student’s PDSO/DSO (school official issuing the I-20).

During the Fall I, Fall II, Spring I, Spring II and Summer terms, “full time” means four classes (five days a week) and is in good academic standing.

A student cannot take off a "vacation" term until he/she completes four consecutive terms in the ELC, i.e. a full academic year.  After finishing four terms, a student can take off a "vacation term" and remain in the U.S., but then he/she must register for ELC classes again the following term.  No F-1 student can take off any given term without written permission from the PDSO/DSO and remain in the U.S. just to travel or to study for the TOEFL, the IELTS, the GRE, the GMAT or any other exam. 

Students wishing to take a "vacation" term (after successfully completing four ELC terms) must demonstrate intent to return for the next term after the completion of the "vacation" term as defined above.   Students who fail to make an advance written request will have their I-20 terminated within three days of the beginning of classes for the affected term or will have their failure to attend classes and dismissal from the program reported to the PDSO/DSO responsible for their US SEVIS documentation for further action.

Students who wish to pursue other activities while in the US are welcome to apply for a change of status as appropriate to their situation, return to their home country for the period they will not be enrolled, or transfer to another U.S. institution.  Failure to notify the ELC of their plans IN ADVANCE and in writing will cause their US immigration status to be in jeopardy.

University Admission

Many of the students in the English Language Center are improving their English with the goal of obtaining admission to a degree program at the University of South Alabama. International students must demonstrate proficiency in English by obtaining a score of 61 on the Internet-based IBT TOEFL exam (173 on the computer-based TOEFL) or 5.5 on the IELTS examination.  Students can also be recommended for admission to university by the director of the ELC if they meet all the requirements.  In order to be recommended, a student has to have passed all level 5 courses with a GPA of 80% or more, read an AR level of 6.0 or above, and have an average of 85 or higher on the Compass Test.  All documents will be sent to USA Admissions.  Note that because it can take three weeks or longer to receive TOEFL or IELTS scores, students are responsible for scheduling examination dates in time for the scores to arrive before University admission deadlines.  Please refer to the USA Bulletin for all admission policies and procedures that are applicable for the semester in which you are interested in applying.

The ELC is eager to assist students with advice and scheduling of such tests.  The program director, instructors, and the computer laboratory assistants are available to help students obtain information about test deadlines and locations.  In addition, the ELC computer lab assistants are available to help ELC students register for these tests online.

English Proficiency Examination

All international undergraduate students admitted to the University, regardless of TOEFL or IELTS score, must take the English proficiency examination during the International Student Orientation with the following exceptions:

  1. Students holding J-1 visas on official USA exchange programs are exempt unless required by a hosting academic unit and/or USA admissions.
  2. Students holding baccalaureate or graduate degrees from regionally accredited United States postsecondary institutions are exempt.
  3. Permanent Residents who submit transcripts from regionally accredited United States secondary or postsecondary institutions with at least two full years of course work are also exempt.
  4. International students who are determined to be native speakers of English are exempt.


All international transfer students must take the exam unless they have 30 or more transfer credit hours as well as transfer credits for EH 101 and 102 and submit proof of these credits prior to the exam.  Based on test results, international students may be required to take between one and four ESL classes to improve their English proficiency. If two ESL classes are required, students must take both the first semester. If more than two classes are required, a student must take at least two the first semester, and then take the others the following semester.  However, if a student has an average of 85 or higher in his/her ESL classes the first semester, the requirement can be dropped for one or both of the remaining classes. If a student fails a required ESL class, i.e. receives a grade of U (Unsatisfactory), he/she must repeat the class the following semester.
International students can be exempted from the English proficiency test and/or ESL class requirements if they can furnish proof of minimum IBT TOEFL or IELTS scores in specific skill areas, namely, on the IBT TOEFL: Reading—15; Listening—15; Speaking—18; Writing—13; on the IELTS: 5.5 in each skill area--Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. 

Students taking ESL classes will be required to take any proficiency exams as required for completion of the class or English language level.  International students who attend USA in degree programs and who are demonstrating academic progress difficulties or other similar challenges may upon the request of their academic departments be required to take English language proficiency/placement exams to address specific language skills or academic issues that may be identified by the academic unit.


It is not possible for students on an F-1 student visa to work off campus.  Off-campus employment will result in termination of a student’s I-20.  It is also not permitted for ESL students to work on campus because they are not admitted to the University and are not enrolled as University of South Alabama students.

Appointment Scheduling

The faculty and staff of the ELC welcome students to meet with them on a regular basis to discuss any concerns they may have with respect to progress in the program and USA policies, or to seek advice on areas of interest.   Instructors post their office hours for walk-in visits with no notice; however, all students should be aware that scheduling an appointment is a courtesy and a requirement if you wish to have extended discussions about specific areas of concern.  Students should always attempt to schedule an appointment one or two days in advance and provide a summary of what they wish to discuss.  The more the instructors and staff are aware of students’ needs prior to the appointment, the more productive the discussions will be.  To schedule appointments please call:  251-460-7185.


If you have a problem with grading, policies, placements, or other issues related to your classes, interactions with instructors, university services, etc. you are encouraged to take the following steps:

  1. Contact the instructor or staff member involved to discuss your concerns in person – make an appointment
  2. If you are unable to resolve your concerns via step A, then you should contact the program director and set up an appointment to review your concerns.  It is best if you have your concerns outlined in writing and provide these concerns during the meeting.
  3. If you are not able to resolve your concerns with A and B, then you may schedule an appointment with the Dean of the School of Continuing Education and Special Programs.  You should bring a written description of your concerns to discuss with them.


Note that timely reporting of any concerns, issues, etc. is extremely important; however, you should also be aware that scheduling an appointment is critical for administrators to be able to discuss your concerns.

For additional USA policies and procedures for students please refer to:

University of South Alabama Bulletin – Policies and procedures for degree seeking students

University of South Alabama Student Handbook “The Lowdown” –






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Date last changed: August 23, 2012 3:03 PM
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