For many ESL students, spending time and money semester after semester in non-credit-bearing ESL classes which do not rapidly equip them to advance into credit-bearing courses or into better-paying jobs is powerfully demotivating. This can be especially frustrating for foreign-educated professionals, who have already picked up many of the metacognitive skills and experience needed to thrive in an academic environment with their American peers or in a professional workplace.
Increasingly, the focus in community colleges around the country is on how quickly and effectively their ESL programs are able to launch their students into credit-bearing academic programs or into workforce development programs that lead to viable careers. Here are three strategies that community colleges are using to accomplish this goal:
First, a number of community colleges have created contextualized ESL programs in which ESL students are introduced to specific academic and career vocabulary, and are supported along a structured path so that they can succeed in academic programs or vocational training that prepares them for family-sustaining jobs.
Perhaps the best known of the contextualized ESL models is the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST), pioneered by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. Designed for intermediate-level English language learners, I-BEST pairs ESL instructors with content area instructors in the same classroom to co-teach college-level vocational courses and workforce training. I-BEST students start earning college credits immediately.
Learn about how LaGuardia Community College adapted this curriculum to create its NY-Best program:
Creating Workforce Development Programs for ESL Students
Portland Community College in Oregon has created short, 2 to 3-term credit career pathways in accounting, computer application systems, retail sales, customer service, and other fields, which ESL students can access without having to meet the college’s reading and writing prerequisites because they take a contextualized academic skill building and support course concurrently.
Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina actively recruits from its ESL classes into its Pathways to Careers program that offers credit-bearing stackable credentials. Students are co-enrolled in credit-bearing courses and in linked, contextualized adult literacy classes. An optional communication course is offered for all ESL students in this program.
A third strategy is for colleges to actively encourage their ESL students to co-enroll in academic, credit-bearing courses.
ESL Co-Enrollment in Academic
The Project A.C.E. (Accelerated Content-based English) program at Miami Dade College, offers a fast-track ESL curriculum to students with strong academic backgrounds, including those with degrees from other countries. Students take content-based ESL courses in which they learn English at the same time that they co-enroll in academic courses in psychology, microcomputers or Internet research.
At Passaic County Community College in New Jersey, students in credit-bearing ESL classes can co-enroll in paired sociology, psychology, computer information systems and early childhood education courses.