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Immigrants in Community Colleges

From: The Future of Children
Volume 21, Number 1, Spring 2011
pp. 153-169 | 10.1353/foc.2011.0009



Immigrant youth and children of immigrants make up a large and increasing share of the nation's population, and over the next few decades they will constitute a significant portion of the U.S. workforce. Robert Teranishi, Carola Suárez-Orozco, and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco argue that increasing their educational attainment, economic productivity, and civic engagement should thus be a national priority.

Community colleges offer one particularly important venue for achieving this objective. Because they are conveniently located, cost much less than four-year colleges, feature open admissions, and accommodate students who work or have family responsibilities, community colleges are well suited to meet the educational needs of immigrants who want to obtain an affordable postsecondary education, learn English-language skills, and prepare for the labor market. The authors explore how community colleges can serve immigrant students more effectively.

Already, more immigrant students attend community colleges than any other type of post-secondary institution. But community colleges could attract even more immigrant students through outreach programs that help them to apply and to navigate the financial aid system. Federal reforms should also allow financial aid to cover tuition for English as a Second Language courses. Community colleges themselves could raise funds to provide scholarships for immigrants and undocumented students.

Although there are many good ideas for interventions that can boost enrollment and improve the performance of immigrant students in community colleges, rigorous research on effective programs is scant. The research community and community colleges need to work together closely to evaluate these programs with a view toward what works and why. Without such research, policy makers will find it difficult to improve the role of community colleges in increasing the educational achievement of immigrant students.

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