No matter their name – be they schools, centers, or academies – English language institutes have seen an astonishing surge in student enrollment in the new millennium. While part of this rise is no doubt due to the ever-growing demand for English language skills in general and the overall uptick of international students in the US in specific, two intersecting factors are accelerating this increase still further.

Consider the first factor: stringent English proficiency requirements. In order to be eligible to study on an F-1 visa, students must first be issued a Certificate of Eligibility (also known as the I-20 form) by a US college or university. This form cannot be issued until prospective students have 1) been admitted to the school, 2) satisfied the school’s funding requirements, and 3) demonstrated an adequate level of English proficiency. This requirement alone does not account for the popularity of English language institutes in the US, however. After all, in 2011 the average male test-taker scored a comfortable 81 out of a possible 120 on the TOEFL. Women did marginally better still, achieving an average 82 out of 120 but in either case a score in excess of 80 is sufficient for most colleges and universities in the US.

No, the data would seem to indicate that English language institutes are not benefiting from the average TOEFL student in general but instead from a handful of the most prominent nationalities in particular. Evidence from this comes when the TOEFL results are broken down by country  and then compared to the findings of the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report. Although China and Saudi Arabia are two of the five most popular countries of origin for international students in the US – together accounting for 29.9 percent of the total– the mean scores for Chinese and Saudi students were 77 and 61, respectively. Thus, as long as these students have both the will and the means – be it through personal savings or international student loans – to make an American Education a reality then their sheer demographic weight will ensure that American English language institutes will be the beneficiaries.