Designing impactful ESL offerings

By Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education

An initiative at Northern Virginia Community College serves the educational and career needs immigrant students.

When immigrants arrive in the U.S. and look for work, they must learn new culture and workplace norms. Many also need assistance with their language skills. Northern Virginia Community College’s Office of Workforce Development—known as NOVA Workforce—supports these students, as well as international students, through its American Culture and Language Institute (ACLI).

ACLI has three key goals:

  • Prepare students for successful transition into an associate degree or a workforce credential program.
  • Develop students’ workforce and communication skills to become productive community members.
  • Prepare students to move from lower to higher paying jobs.

In an effort to better serve the educational and career needs of NOVA immigrant students, ACLI is implementing a new Part-Time English as a Second Language (ESL) Program called Career Readiness, which will offer workforce-contextualized English classes for students at high-beginning through intermediate ESL levels. Subject matter experts from NOVA’s Workforce Credentials program—a state grant program for Virginia residents in industry-specific certification courses—will interact with ESL students through guest lectures, interviews, and noncredit workforce credentials classes.

The intent of the new effort is to assist in transitioning Part-Time Program students from contextualized ESL to sector-specific content instruction. Optional support ESL classes such as grammar, pronunciation, and a learning lab provide supplementary, “soft skill” instruction to promote students’ persistence and prepare them for the workforce.

ACLI also offers tailored workplace training in collaboration with local businesses to develop their employees’ language skills and improve productivity. These services are provided at NOVA campuses and at the workplace. In both the Part-Time ESL and ESL for the Workplace programs, ACLI staff have accelerated the use of data to evaluate, redesign and tailor curriculum to improve training and target student and employer needs more effectively.

ACLI evolved out of noncredit ESL programs that Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) established in the mid-1980s. These programs were operated independently at different campuses until 2009, when the college established a task force to coordinate all ESL programs and create a core set of noncredit courses to be taught on five NOVA campuses.

ACLI comprises an Intensive English Program and a Part-Time Program that provide instruction in the four language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). ACLI also offers specialty courses in test preparation and current events for higher-level students. The Intensive English Program prepares local immigrant residents (long-time and recent arrivals) and international students for college-level classes and associate degrees. The Part-Time Program prepares local students for future careers and improves their social skills in English.

ACLI has served more than 32,000 students since 2009. The average ACLI student spends two semesters in the program. As of spring 2017, the majority of ACLI’s 1,274 students were local residents who emigrated from more than 75 countries. International F-1 visa students represented 27 percent of ACLI participants. Approximately 41 percent of ACLI students are enrolled full-time and are high school graduates seeking associate degrees from NOVA. The other 59 percent are enrolled part-time and are seeking to improve their workplace English skills or enter workforce credential programs.

This post originally appeared on the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE) blog.  It is the first of three CCCIE blog posts about ACLI.

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