Published on 2015/10/20

Taking College to the Community: Accelerating Accessibility to Language Education

The EvoLLLution | Taking College to the Community: Accelerating Accessibility to Language Education
Two-year colleges have a responsibility to make education as accessible as possible for those in their community and, for adults with limited language skills, are taking noncredit language education programs right to their doors.

Nationally, access to higher education has been the mission of the two-year community college for decades. College access, leadership, as well as meeting business, industry and local community needs, is the mission of Gateway Technical College. According to the September 2015 issue of Community College Week, Hispanics are the second largest group enrolled in community colleges at 20 percent (other groups are as follows: 54 percent Whites, 15 percent African-Americans and 6 percent Asians). Approximately twelve years ago, the number of Hispanic students at Gateway Technical College surpassed the number of African-American students, which is reflective of the trend at community colleges across the United States. For the 2014-2015 academic year Hispanics comprised 16 percent of enrollment at Gateway compared to 14 percent African-American students.

It is imperative that colleges and universities do not wait for national or even state initiatives to address the growing needs of the changing demographics of our communities. Two-year colleges must take a leadership role by creating pathways to higher education that meet the needs of every facet of the community. Discovering those needs of particular populations of students/community is facilitated by listening to faculty and staff and community leaders that interact with those students and, if possible, staff dedicated to being a liaison for that purpose. For the Hispanic population, that may mean robust, proactive and often expensive English Language Learners (ELL) programs. Sometimes it means taking the education to the community.

In conversations with ELL instructors and our liaison to the Hispanic community it was expressed that there is a fear of coming to campus and not knowing what to expect, especially if English is the second language. Hispanic students were uncomfortable navigating the campus and often, being the first in their families to pursue college, had no clue about the complicated processes and systems involved in being a college student.

Colleges and universities are doing more to address these issues on campus by offering some forms in Spanish, having bilingual staff, and having support groups and /or clubs. That’s great if the student makes it to the front door. More needs to be done to get Hispanic students to the front door. Gateway Technical College partnered with a local school district to offer ELL courses at a middle school for Hispanic parents of the school district. This has been a win-win situation for the college as well as the school district. The program not only includes ELL instruction, but assistance in college admission applications and tours of the campus. These students have a very smooth transition to the higher level ELL program at the college and to academic programs of study. These adult students are also better equipped to help their children with school work and read and understand information that comes from the school district. The school district leadership has reported that parents involved in the ELL program at the middle school participate in school activities more and are more engaged in their child’s learning.

There are many more creative ways to provide greater access for Hispanic students. However they all require leadership, resources, sincere communication, and dedication to meeting students where they are. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

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Readers Comments

Carol Brewer 2015/10/20 at 11:13 am

This is exactly what colleges committed to access should be doing. As the author indicates, access doesn’t begin at the front door. It begins several steps back with language, with initiatives to help first-generation students with no one to guide them through the process. It’s our responsibility to engage fully with the community if we truly want to serve the community.

Gordon Flowers 2015/10/20 at 2:42 pm

It’s great to see colleges integrating Spanish-speaking and other bilingual support staff. As much as English is a crucial language for education in America, it’s also necessary to recognize and respect that it’s not the only language by any means, and we owe it to students to communicate in the ways that make them most comfortable whenever we can.

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