To pass the U.S. citizenship test immigrants must answer questions confidently in English, says instructor Irene O’Brien at Community College of Aurora in Colorado. Students come from Ethiopia, Ukraine, Iraq, Lebanon, Mexico and elsewhere, reports the Aurora Sentinel.
Students who take the naturalization test are asked 10 questions about the United States out of a list of 100. They must answer orally so they can be graded on their English skills as well as their knowledge. They also take a brief reading and writing exam.
Possible questions include the number of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the names of the president, vice president and speaker of the House, and one author of the Federalist Papers.
About 91 percent of immigrants pass the citizenship test, according to USCIS. About a third of U.S. citizens would fail if they had to take the test, according to a Xavier University survey.
The immigrant students are motivated to earn citizenship and a U.S. passport.
“If you’re not the religion they want in my country, you have a hard time getting the job you want,” said Sondang Liberatore, a student who immigrated to Aurora from Indonesia in 2001.
“I want human right, for the freedom for my whole life,” said Nai Mon Htow, a refugee from Burma. “That’s why I come to the United States.”
“While more than four out of five East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) and South Asians (Asian Indian and Pakistani) who enrolled in college earned at least a bachelor’s degree,” college success rates are lower for Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, reports Community College Daily. Most are first-generation students from immigrant families.
Some community colleges are creating special programs for Asian-American and Pacific Islander students. The federal government provides grants to Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI).
At South Seattle Community College (SSCC), 26 percent of the students at the college are AAPI students.
When SSCC got its first AANAPISI grant, it experimented with clustered learning communities. The students in the learning communities took a college success course that was linked with a developmental English course. They also had access to mentoring from peer mentors.
“It gets students engaging with one another,” said May Toy Lukens, project director for SSCC’s AANAPISI program.
The students who participated in the learning communities had a higher rate of transitioning to college-level courses and a higher rate of persistence.
SSCC also created the AAPI Center, which provides tutoring, advising and a place to connect with other students.
An anthropologist was hired to develop courses to engage Pacific Islanders, who have low success rates. The college also hired cultural specialists to advise on the Pacific Islander and Southeast Asian communities.
More than 40 percent of students at De Anza College in California come from AAPI families. The college has created learning communities aimed at Filipino, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students. A developmental English course is paired with a credit-bearing Asian-American literature course. “More than 85 percent of the students in the learning communities transitioned to college-level English courses,” college officials told Community College Daily.
Minnesota isn’t just for Larsons, Hansons and Olsons. The state has drawn immigrants and refugees to rural towns with jobs in meatpacking and agriculture. For rural immigrants with college dreams, higher education often begins at community and technical colleges, reports the MinnPost.
NORTH MANKATO, Minn. — Mustafa Omar graduated from St. Peter High School last spring with a clear goal in mind — earning a degree in petroleum engineering — but only a vague idea about how to achieve it.
Minnesota State University in nearby Mankato, with its sprawling campus of 18,000 students, felt a bit too big. As for Gustavus Adolphus College, the private school in his hometown with the $40,000 tuition, he said: “I didn’t even think about it.”
That left a third option close to home: South Central College, a community and technical college about a dozen miles away.
Omar hopes to earn an associate degree before transferring to the University of Texas. His Somali family moved to Syria and then to the U.S. “One of the main reasons we are here is to get a good education,” he said of his family. “That is our goal
In addition to lower tuition, smaller class sizes and proximity, two-year colleges have developed courses for students who speak English is a second, or third or fourth, language, reports the Post.
At South Central, Fanah Adam, a student adviser, said the number of students he refers to as “new Americans” — roughly speaking, recent immigrants or refugees or their children, many of them Somali — jumped from less than 20 when he arrived, in December 2009, to about 145 this semester on the college’s campuses in North Mankato and Faribault.
Ameera Alhamidi, a refugee from Iraq, is taking English for Academic Purposes: Reading and Oral Communication at South Central. “It’s just easier to start here,” she said. “It’s not like (Minnesota State), where it is so big. I would be lost there.”
A former owner of the Washington Post, a Democratic fundraiser and a former Republican Cabinet secretary have launched a college scholarship fund for undocumented students who came to the U.S. as children. TheDream.US will award full-tuition college scholarships to 1,000 “dreamers” in the next academic year, reports the Washington Post.
“Our mission is work-related programs at low cost but relatively high quality,” said Donald Graham, the retired publisher. The fund will focus on students who want to study nursing, teaching, computers and business.
Students will be able to attend pre-selected colleges — including several community colleges and one online school — in New York, Texas, Florida and the District of Columbia. Those who start at community college can reapply for scholarship aid once they complete an associate degree, said Candy Marshall, president of TheDream.US.
Some of the approved colleges have low on-time graduation rates. At Bronx Community College in New York, 8 percent of full-time students graduated in three years, while 13.4 percent transferred to four-year institutions.
Graham predicted the scholarship winners will do better, because they’re “extremely motivated.” In addition, the pre-approved colleges have promised to provide an academic counselor for the “dreamers.”
“We’re not just about getting kids into college, we’re about getting students out of college,” Marshall said. “You could do this and just give them $25,000 to go to the college of their choice. But we don’t want to put students in situations where we’ve started them in college and they’re working three or four jobs to try to pay for the rest, and they don’t succeed.”
Among the first 28 dreamers is Araceli Mendez, 21, who came to the United States with her parents from Mexico when she was 7. She was graduated from high school in Brooklyn in 2010 and admitted to college, but couldn’t afford tuition. She’s worked for three years cleaning homes to save money for college. With a scholarship from TheDream.US, Mendez has started classes at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She wants to be a pediatric nurse or pediatrician.
Maryland community colleges have added English as a Second Language and GED programs to serve a growing number of immigrant students.
At Prince George’s Community College’s (PGCC) International Education Center, health care careers is the most popular program for immigrant students. But many need to improve their English. “PGCC and four other community colleges in Maryland created an accelerated program—modeled on Washington state’s I-Best program—that provides language and skills training,” reports Community College Times.
In addition to Latinos, PGCC draws students from Africa and other countries.
About 25 percent of the nation’s 6.5 million degree-seeking community college students were foreign born in 2004-05, according to a U.S. Education Department report.
California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to shift adult education from K-12 districts to community colleges, but the Legislature may not go alone, reports the Oakland Tribune.
The plan would give community colleges an additional $300 million to set up similar adult education programs, including high school diploma or equivalency courses, vocational education and citizenship classes. College leaders note the amount is less than half of what the state spent on adult schools five years ago, and that colleges have no experience running some of these programs.
“We’ve never been in the business of doing GED (the high school diploma equivalent), nor have we done anything with citizenship,” said Ron Galatolo, chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District.
Under the governor’s proposal, school districts would continue to get the same funding, but could shift the money to other uses. In Oakland, which has a 27 percent dropout rate, the district plans to close its GED programs if it isn’t required to serve adult students.
. . . the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office cites “major problems” with the plan and urges the Legislature to instead invest the money in a special fund for adult education, managed by K-12 school districts.
. . . For years, community colleges have also offered remedial courses, including English as a second language, but have generally targeted higher-skilled students, while adult schools — often in courses set up at a school or community center — have worked with school dropouts and recent immigrants and refugees, including those unable to read or write.
Proponents argue adult education students could move more easily to job training and college classes, if they started at community colleges. Colleges could contract with existing adult ed programs rather than design their own classes.
Alan Aleman, a Mexico-born “Dream” student was among Michelle Obama’s guests for the State of the Union address. Aleman, a student at the College of Southern Nevada, was one of the first in Nevada to sign up for deferred action for undocumented youth, which includes a renewable work permit. Aleman hopes to join the Air Force and become a doctor.
Eliana Osborn has a hard-working, competent, front-row student who’s taking the English class for the fifth time, she writes on The Two-Year Track.
She’s learned from her many failures and seems to be doing things right on Attempt 5. I respect that. I’m not cutting her any breaks, but she doesn’t need them. She’s learned about herself and how to be a good student. I asked her why she keeps coming and trying after so many disappointing semesters.
“I have to do this,” she told me with steely eyes. “I don’t have a choice. I have to get an education for my family.”
Teaching on the U.S.-Mexico border, she has many low-income students who speak English as a second language. “As I read their papers and learn about their lives, I am impressed again and again by their perseverance,” Osborn writes.
In Dreaming Big, the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE) recommends ways for community colleges to serve a new wave of young immigrants. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, announced by the Obama administration in June, will let undocumented immigrants who arrived as children stay in the U.S. and work legally, if they meet educational and other requirements. Many are expected to enroll in community colleges.
The report deals with increasing college access, extending financial aid to make college affordable, supporting college readiness and success, offering alternatives for adult learners and improving college retention and completion.
Young illegal immigrants began applying this week for two-year stays on deportation and renewable work permits. But high school dropouts aren’t eligible — unless they’re enrolled in classes leading to a GED or a job. That could mean a big demand for community college classes.
Applicants must have been younger than 31 when the administration policy was announced on June 15, brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and in the country for five years or more. Applicants must also be high school graduates or GED holders or be enrolled in school. Those convicted of a “serious” crime are not eligible.
Up to 1.76 million people are eligible or will be when they turn 15, estimates the Migration Policy Institute.
College students represent just a small share of young illegal immigrants, Roberto Gonzales, a University of Chicago sociology professor, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. Some 350,000 high school drop-outs could qualify by enrolling in a program before filing an application.
One student who plans to apply is Karla Campos, 25, who came from Mexico about 16 years ago and is working on her GED. Her 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter dream of attending college, and she used to worry that she wouldn’t be able to afford to help them do so—several employers turned her away because she was not authorized to work.
Now that she is eligible for a work permit, Ms. Campos is confident that she can make higher education a reality for her children. She would now like to go to college, too, though it’s too soon to say what her major would be.
Enrollment in a GED program or an “education, literacy, or career training program (including vocational training) that is designed to lead to placement in postsecondary education, job training, or employment” would qualify non-graduates, according to federal guidelines. Dropouts can choose federal or state-funded programs or programs “administered by providers of demonstrated effectiveness, such as institutions of higher education, including community colleges, and certain community-based organizations.”
If dropouts enroll in community college, get a deferral and then fail to complete the program — a likely outcome for poorly prepared students — could they enroll again in two years when their deferral runs out? The deferrals are based on Obama administration policy, not law, so it’s hard to know.