How Can Community Colleges Better Support Immigrants and Refugees?
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How Can Community Colleges Better Support Immigrants and Refugees?

Community colleges have a lot to offer those newly-arrived in America—if only they can get the word out.

New arrivals to America come from a range of backgrounds. Some have followed work opportunities, and are only planning to stay for a few years. Others intend to make their move permanent, and are seeking new statuses as permanent residents with the eventual goal of becoming naturalized citizens. Some have moved to be with a spouse or family member, and many are minors who will come of age in the United States.

Tragically, many of those who settle in America come from regions torn by war and violence. They may be dealing with the trauma of these experiences, as well as the financial hardship of having abandoned many of their belongings. Some of these may also be undocumented and in need of legal assistance.

Many community colleges already resources designed to help these populations. Unfortunately, many members of these communities are unaware of services community colleges provide, and probably wouldn’t even think to look for them. They may come from countries where colleges are scarce and only available to a privileged few. Or the education system of their own country could be more streamlined, and may not include the equivalent of a community college.

To bridge this gap, community colleges need to become more proactive in distributing their materials to communities in need. Here are four steps community colleges should take to reach immigrants and refugees.

1. Create resources with important information that immigrants and refugees may not know.

It’s easy to take certain things for granted, especially information which we assume to be common knowledge. Unfortunately, it is precisely that “common knowledge” that makes moving to a new country so jarring for many immigrants and refugees. They not only don’t know many basic day-to-day things the rest of us never think twice about, they may not even know they need to ask about it.

Reach out to the immigrant students at your school to learn about which resources they would have found most helpful when they arrived, and what things took them most by surprise. Use this information to create more resources to help future students. And, wherever possible, translate these materials into the native language of the communities you are trying to reach. After all, many of them may not have strong English language skills.

2. Be proactive in reaching out to the community with information about ESL courses.

English language courses are some of the most important classes community colleges have to offer. It is a mistake to believe that the average immigrant will simply learn a language on their own simply by absorbing it from their surroundings.

Language acquisition is more complex than this. Many immigrants naturally settle in neighborhoods with other immigrants of a similar background. They may even struggle to find a job, except for ones where their coworkers share their language. This limits their opportunities to learn English, especially if they are reluctant to practice in day-to-day scenarios where they may feel embarrassed by their lack of language skills.

ESL courses can help immigrants connect to the broader community so that they feel less isolated, and their ability to communicate will in turn help others learn more about their culture and traditions.

3. Work directly with resettlement workers to help refugees learn about their options.

Refugee resettlement workers are tasked with helping those who have been granted asylum in the United States find places to live and make a new home. These workers have a lot on their plate, but they are also some of the most qualified individuals to speak to about refugee needs.

Apart from official government services, there are often volunteer communities within an area to help refugees feel welcome in their new home. Reaching these organizations with information about your programs is an effective way to help word travel to those who need it most.

4. Be active in the community to connect immigrants to work partnership opportunities.

Finally, focus some of your resources on ways to partner immigrants and refugees with work opportunities. Many new arrivals are in a financially vulnerable position, and are anxious to find work so that they can feel settled.

Community colleges are perfectly positioned to help facilitate these connections. Not only do they offer career training programs, but many of these programs already include work placement opportunities. By combining this network of resources with the programs designed to help immigrants and refugees settle, they can help ensure that these new members of the workforce have all the qualifications they need to thrive.

Immigrants enrich American life. Community colleges should do their best to help them find their feet.

American culture has been defined by the immigrants who have come to this country and made it their own. They have made unique contributes to our art and industry, our cuisine and our entertainment. Many have started poor and grown into successful entrepreneurs, contributing to our economy in ways both big and small. However, few are able to do so unassisted, and the greatest help we can offer is through education.

If colleges are to help these demographics make the most of their new home, they have to be proactive in reaching them with helpful, informative marketing resources. These populations are unlikely to be swayed by advertising slogans. Instead, they need information-rich marketing materials designed to deliver practical information about costs, financial aid, and employment opportunities.

Colleges that make this a priority will see growth not only in their institutions, but in their communities as well.