College Programs For ESL Students Help Them Get Ahead


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Robert Held

Getting into and succeeding at college can be challenging for most students, but if you are learning English as a second language students (ESL), the obstacles can be especially difficult to overcome.  Several state colleges in Connecticut however offer assistance and programs to ESL students, so they too can pursue a college education.
At Capital Community College in Hartford, there are approximately 200 ESL students each semester, half of whom come from Spanish speaking countries, enrolled in programs to help them, according to their President Wilfredo Nieves.
“We provide academic and continuing education programs.  Our academic program prepares students with the English language skills to be successful in college courses. Our continuing education courses focus more on developing skills for the workforce, for example, English courses tailored for certain industries,” said Nieves.
Capital also offers other programs to help ESL students not only earn a degree, but improve their language skills as well. For example, the college has a program designed to assist those who want to obtain a Child Development Associate Certificate (CDA). The program which is four to five semesters long, also teaches students English language classes to help them further their education.
ESL students face a number of challenges when applying to colleges in the United States. Many of these students are adapting to a new culture. Additionally, the admission process can be difficult especially when a student has to make sure he or she has met all the admission requirements, provided the proper documentation, gotten the proper immunizations, taken all of their placement tests and have familiarized themselves with the technology required to enroll and take classes at a college level.
“Our supportive community at Capital assists with this process every step of the way, offering specialized placement assessments, advising, financial aid, a language lab with specialized software, and tutoring.  Many of our staff are bilingual or multicultural,” said Nieves.
Officials for the Board of Regents in Connecticut see programs like this being offered at local state and community colleges as a positive step for ESL students.
“By attending our community colleges, they have taken the first step in fulfilling their hopes and aspirations, and we are pleased to be able to provide them with some level of support,” said Yvette Meléndez, Vice Chairwoman of the Board of Regents for Higher Education in Connecticut.
Many of the  ESL students are the first one in a family to attend college, which Capital President Nieves says makes it especially important for colleges to reach out to families as well.
“The ability to reach out to families, and assure them we can help with this [applying], is a key factor in increasing enrollment and success in college,” said Nieves.
Thus far though, Capital Community College’s efforts to bring in and assist ESL students appear to be working.  We have found that students in our ESL Program traditionally have had a higher retention and success rate than the general student population.  I believe our compassionate staff and faculty contribute to our effectiveness,” said Nieves.
Besides language barriers, some ESL students do not apply or enter college because of financial problems, particularly for those who are the children of undocumented parents.
“In terms of general difficulties ESL students may have, I think financial difficulties create the largest barrier. Some of them are compelled to work right after high school to support their families and have to put college on the backburner,” said Alberto Cifuentes Jr., a former ESL student who  attended Southern Connecticut State University.
President Nieves hopes that something can be done one day to assist these students.  “For undocumented students, I believe there should be funding made available to assist them financially since they cannot apply for FAFSA. Currently, most scholarships require proof of citizenship,” said Nieves.