4 Ways Community Colleges Are Vital to Immigrant Communities
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4 Ways Community Colleges Are Vital to Immigrant Communities

Community colleges play an essential role in helping immigrant and refugee families thrive.

According to the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education, immigrants and the children of immigrants form 25% of the student body at community colleges nationwide. This represents a huge portion of the student population, and reflects a new economic trend as well: immigrants represent a large and growing portion of the American workforce. As immigrants participate more in the American economy, their educational needs will also rise.

Immigrant communities stand to benefit more than most from accessible community college programs, which is part of why they enroll at a higher rate than their native-born peers. Here are four ways community colleges help prepare immigrant and refugee students for further education and the workforce.

1. Community colleges help immigrants and refugees achieve their GED.

Depending on where immigrant and refugee families originate, they may have a range of educational needs. Students from less developed countries may have had an inconsistent education growing up, or they may have left school at an earlier age than their American peers. Those who have left their country as refugees may have experienced significant hardships that have disrupted their education as well.

Community colleges provide some of the most valuable resources for students who want to attain their high school equivalency diploma by passing the General Educational Development test (GED). The GED is an important stepping stone for any student who has not been able to complete the traditional K–12 educational program in the United States. Achieving the GED opens the doorway for various jobs and for further education.

In some cases, immigrant students already have the level of education necessary to pass the GED, but lack the documentation to prove it. In other cases, GED preparation programs can help students achieve their educational goals so that they can move on to their next opportunity. Either way, this test acknowledges and formalizes their educational attainments.

2. Community colleges are often the first experience immigrant families have with higher ed.

Many immigrant parents come to the United States for their children’s sake, so that they can achieve a better education and quality of life than would otherwise be available to them in their home country. Because of this, many community college students may have immigrated at a young age, or may have immigrant parents, but are themselves the first generation to attend higher education.

Their goals may be to achieve a two-year degree, or to transfer to a four-year institution. Either way, they are likely to be less familiar with the educational system than their native-born peers. Community colleges should focus more of their resources on ensuring that these students understand the complexities surrounding enrollment, student aid, and transferring to a four-year institution.

3. Community colleges provide valuable ESL resources.

Of all the resources community colleges offer, English as a Second Language (ESL) courses—sometimes more accurately listed as English as a Foreign Language (EFL)—are among the most in-demand. Many immigrants enter the United States with specialized knowledge from their home country, but without the English language skills necessary to integrate into society. A lack of English language skills can lead to social alienation as well as reduced work opportunities.

ESL courses help foreign students gain the language abilities they need for their new lives while also helping them bridge the gap between their own ethnic community and the surrounding culture. After all, an immigrant or refugee taking an ESL course might be very skilled in their native tongue, even while struggling to acquire their second (or third, or fourth) language. ESL courses help immigrants make the most of all their abilities, while giving them the language skills and the confidence to integrate with their community.

4. Community colleges offer training for skilled jobs.

Immigrant and refugee students have a strong drive to work hard and find steady employment. Like their native-born peers, they turn to community colleges to receive a two-year diploma or a certificate for a professional skill, such as nursing, electrical work, or automotive repair. Many even seek jobs that will help them work more effectively in similar immigrant communities, where their native language skills will be an advantage.

Some immigrant students come to class with a background of knowledge that is specialized for their country of origin, but which doesn’t fit in with American codes or regulations. Community college courses provide a way for them to achieve certification in the United States so that they can continue practicing their profession.

Your community college can help immigrant families find their footing and enrich their neighborhoods.

Immigrants form a long and complex part of American history. Traditionally, new waves of immigrants have come to the United States in search of new economic opportunities, or to flee war and persecution in their home countries. Once here, many have faced a hard road full of prejudice and discrimination. However, immigrants have also brought with them ideas, customs, and culinary traditions that have enriched the cities and neighborhoods where they have settled.

As educational standards for employment opportunities rise, it will become increasingly important to ensure that those newest to America aren’t left behind. The more community colleges engage immigrant and refugee communities, the more readily these new citizens will be able to attain the education they need to find employment and settle into their new lives.

It is the duty of community colleges to reach out to the newest members of their communities to make sure they understand the benefits community colleges have to offer them. If community colleges don’t invest in outreach, their most valuable services may be underused by those who need them most.

We at Aperture Content Marketing have recently begun working with community colleges in our network to produce Spanish-language versions of our CareerFocus publication. If you are interested in hearing more about this resource, contact us today.