Community Colleges Are Urged to Take Innovative Steps to Serve Immigrant Students

January 16, 2012

Community colleges must develop innovative and customized approaches to serve a growing number of immigrant students, says a report released on Monday by the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education.

Immigrants and their children are expected to account for all work-force growth over the next 20 years, the report says, and by 2030 nearly one in five workers in the United States will be an immigrant. "Ensuring educational access and success for the immigrant population is critical to increasing U.S. college completion, improving work-force readiness, and sustaining the nation's productivity in a highly competitive global economy, the report says. Educating immigrants is also key to accomplishing President Obama's goal of increasing the proportion of Americans with college credentials.

Although immigrant students share characteristics and struggles with other community-college students, many face additional challenges, such as learning a new language and acclimating to a new culture, the report notes. The consortium, a group of 23 community colleges and other organizations that have joined to increase educational opportunities for immigrant students, studied the experiences of its colleges and identified 11 important factors in their educational practices to help institutions better meet immigrant students' needs.

One factor is to reach out to the students and create a welcoming campus. For example, Rio Hondo College, in Whittier, Calif., created a program called "Achieving the Dream" that provides scholarships for undocumented high-school students to continue their educations. The college also offers a "safe zone" for students to get legal and financial assistance.

The report also says that colleges benefited from a redesign of their English as a Second Language programs to better serve their immigrant students. At the Alamo Community Colleges, in San Antonio, underskilled and immigrant students now enroll in a preparatory course called "Career EASE," which teaches college readiness, computer literacy, basic skills, and language development, before they begin technical training in specific industries. For students who have been out of school, in some cases for decades, the class sharpens their academic skills and prepares them for future course work.

"Colleges are developing programs that align with the specific needs of their community and students," the report says. "There is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to the design of innovative immigrant education and training programs."