ERIC Identifier: ED447859
Publication Date: 2000-06-00
Author: Kuo, Elaine W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
English as a Second Language: Program Approaches at Community
Colleges. ERIC Digest.
With the increasing enrollment of non-native English speakers in higher
education, English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction has become one of the
fastest growing programs in the community college curriculum. According to a
1998 study of curriculum in community colleges nationwide, there was a 38%
increase in ESL course offerings between 1991 and1998 (Kuo, 1999; Schuyler,
1999). This Digest examines the status of these programs by presenting an
overview of the ESL curriculum, discussing various approaches and assessment
efforts at community colleges, and examining some current issues facing ESL
THE ESL CURRICULUM
ESL programs aim to help non-native
English speakers learn the new language and provide them with the skills to
persist in academic coursework and function in society. Although the general
goals of ESL programs are similar, Shoemaker (1996) discovered that ESL
instruction within the community colleges is far from standardized. This is
demonstrated in the four distinct curricular designs Ignash (1995) found in the
large ESL programs at six community colleges (California, Florida, Illinois,
Oregon, New Jersey, and Texas).
* The truncated design is comprised of noncredit, beginning and intermediate
level ESL programs.
* The academic design provides credit to all ESL courses found within an
academic department except for non-credit beginning level courses.
* The comprehensive design is similar to the academic design, but serves more
students by offering a breadth of course offerings, with both credit and
non-credit ESL courses available to students of all levels of English
* The credit design awards credit for almost all ESL classes and also helps
ESL students make the transition from ESL to regular courses.
Although ESL programs bring together disparate groups of people from
different backgrounds, these students share unfamiliarity with the English
language and American culture. Successful ESL curricular designs attempt to
address these student needs to ensure proper acclimation to the new environment.
ESL PROGRAM APPROACHES
One approach is to incorporate
techniques typically used with under prepared students. Kimmel and Davis (1996)
operationalize Rose's theory (1989) that under prepared students lack more than
just the cognitive skills needed to be productive academically; they also lack
basic social survival skills necessary to navigate the academic environment.
Similarly, for most ESL students the American education system is difficult to
navigate, regardless of their previous academic experiences. Thus, a
well-conceptualized ESL curriculum incorporates these students' experiences and
provides a holistic approach to learning the course material including tips on
how to survive the "culture of the academy" (Kimmel & Davis, 1996, p. 71).
Other ESL programs have incorporated the research on developmental curriculum
and pedagogy. These efforts included the use of paired classes, language and
computer labs, and distance education. The Bilingual Immersion Program at
Compton Community College (CA) attempted to provide a more sheltered English
orientation. A five-year plan provided instruction in English and college prep
coursework as well as basic skills necessary for survival in the classroom and
workplace. Certified bilingual instructors taught math, science, art, social
sciences, and English. In addition, ESL students were required to utilize the
community college's tutorial program (Comacho, 1995).
The role of ESL tutors can contribute greatly to student success. At Bronx
Community College (NY), an institution serving about 1,500 ESL students, tutors
were trained in pedagogical techniques encouraging independent thinking (Misick
and Santa Rita, 1996). Demonstrating the need for ESL programs to expand beyond
the traditional tutoring interaction, the college created a student development
tutoring model (SDTM) emphasizing the importance of learning strategies. Tutors
were trained to be active with the subject material, to engage the students
directly to increase their understanding, and to foster student confidence to
operate independently. These tutors not only helped their students gain the
immediate academic knowledge needed for current coursework, but they also helped
the students become better information processors. Pedagogical techniques
focused on twenty tutor-specific behaviors, such as developing listening skills
and setting high expectations, so that the tutoring relationship could be more
Assessments have been conducted to determine the
effects of ESL programs on student outcomes. Educators at New York City
Technical College wanted to know if their ESL courses promoted positive academic
outcomes within the general curriculum (Gerardi, 1996). Comparing the credits
earned, matriculation rate, and grade point averages (GPA) of native-born
students to new immigrant students, the authors found that immigrant students,
who initially enrolled in the ESL program, tended to have lower GPAs and earned
fewer total credits earned than native students. However, these findings may be
clouded due to the direct comparison of new immigrants with the mainstream
student population, rather than with a more comparable sub-population of
English-speaking students such as those enrolled in remediation courses. Still,
immigrant students seemed more engaged in college because they were more likely
to take advantage of the various services offered by the institution (e.g.
tutoring, counseling, computer facilities, etc.). In addition, they had a 63
percent rate of persistence compared to 55 percent of those native-born. These
data suggested that the ESL program at New York City Technical College led to
positive outcomes for new immigrant students.
Assessment efforts are often complicated by a variety of program offerings
and a diverse student body. A study by the Florida State Board of Community
Colleges (1996) indicated many differences in courses and programs between
colleges. While most of the community colleges administrators in Florida felt
relatively satisfied with their existing program and policies, there was little
consistency across institutions, especially in identification and placement
procedures. In fact, ten institutions did not offer any ESL courses and limited
English students took courses with native speakers. Many of these institutions,
located in the more rural parts of Florida, struggled with the unprecedented and
unexpected increases of the non-English speaking population. Concern was
expressed about the lack of instructional and counseling support for the staff
because ESL programs were often staffed with part-time, inexperienced
instructors. The Florida State Board recommended that the state create some
standardization among the various ESL programs to ease assessment efforts.
ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
Current issues being discussed in
relation to ESL programs at community colleges include the awarding of course
credit, access to financial aid and provider status. First, the debate on the
status of ESL instruction as a credit or non-credit course centers on the
funding category of these courses. Because state funding more directly supports
non-credit ESL courses, there is less incentive to change the status of these
courses (Ignash, 1995; Kurzet, 1997). As a result, ESL students who are unable
to apply any of their coursework toward the community college graduation
requirements may experience prolonged time and increased costs in their
Second, access to financial aid is an issue of increasing concern. Critics
complain that ESL students have a lower rate of persistence and should be
ineligible for aid. Ignash (1995) argues that additional financial assistance
could contribute to increased persistence levels since ESL students take
considerably longer to complete their academic goals due to their limited
English proficiency. Perhaps community colleges need to increase their role in
tracking ESL students in order to help guide funding decisions (Ignash, 1995).
Finally, the debate continues on who is responsible for providing ESL
instruction. Should it belong to the community colleges or local school district
adult programs? State and federal policies have collided in this debate (Ignash,
1995). Previous federal funding expanded ESL offerings in community colleges,
but when the funding ended for some programs, states assumed responsibility by
offering similar non-credit programs at adult schools. As a result, both
community colleges and adults schools are competing for limited funds to serve
the same ESL students.
In a more general sense, many community college curriculum planners were
taken by surprise with the demand for ESL courses. As a result, ESL programs
often are housed in a wide-range of departments (depending on the funding
source) and isolated from the rest of campus. Goals and expectations of the
programs may be unclear and assessment efforts incomplete. The students in ESL
programs come from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds and may
require additional development services. Limited English students include people
with poor academic preparation as well as educated immigrants who lack the
language mastery. Instructors in ESL courses are often have part-time status and
heavy teaching loads, complicating attempts to improve or integrate curricula.
Community colleges offer a broad spectrum of
ESL programs to a diverse group of students. The programs represent an
increasingly important aspect of institutional missions and are the subject of
considerable interest and debate. As community colleges continue to experience
high demand for ESL courses, the institutions will be challenged to deal with
these issues and offer programs and services that maintain access and motivate
their students (Kurzet, 1997).
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general education associate of arts/certification, bilingual immersion program
for the California State University System. Los Angeles: Compton Community
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Florida State Board of Community Colleges. (1996). English as a Second
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Community Colleges. (ED 400 906)
Gerardi, S. (1996). The effects of English as a Second Language on college
academic outcomes. Brooklyn, New York: New York City Technical College. (ED 398
Ignash, J. M. (1995). Encouraging ESL students persistence: The influence of
policy on curricular design. Community College Review, 23(3), 17-34.
Kimmel, I., & Davis, J. R. (1996). Moving to the Center: Students'
Strategies for College Survival. Research & Teaching in Developmental
Education, 12(2), 71-79.
Kuo, E. W. (1999, Winter). English as a second language in the community
college curriculum. New Directions for Community Colleges, 108, 69-80.
Kurzet, R. (1997, Winter). Quality versus quantity in the delivery of
developmental programs for ESL students. New Directions for Community Colleges,
Misick, J., & Santa Rita, E. (1996). Student development approach to
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Rose, M. (1989). Lives on the boundary. New York, New York: Penguin Books.
Schuyler, G. (Ed.). (1999). Trends in community college curriculum. New
Directions for Community Colleges, 108. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Shoemaker, C. L. (1996). Results of survey of community college ESL programs.
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