How to Help English Learners Enter College

It is estimated that 10% of U.S. public school students are currently classified as English Learner, or commonly referred to as ELs.  Of these students, the vast majority are Hispanic or of Spanish-speaking decent.

Not too long ago, FE Coalition shared that ELs in the state of Connecticut struggled to meet “college ready” standards. In fact, of the ten thousand EL students in the entire state that took the test, less than 10 total met or exceeded college ready expectations in both math and English.

The FE Coalition knows this phenomenon does not indicate ELs have less capacity to achieve academically, rather it likely indicates that ELs were held to lower expectations or standards throughout their education journey. In fact, research from Rice University suggests that when schools expose ELs to college-ready standards, the likelihood of ELs enrolling in a four-year college increases.

In a recent study by the Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) titled Inequalities in Postsecondary Attainment by English Learner Status: The Role of College-Level Course-Taking, researchers compared differences in (a) college-level course-taking during high school and (b) four-year college outcomes among four groups of students; (1) students who were never classified as EL (“Never EL” students), (2) former ELs reclassified during elementary school (grades kindergarten-five), (3) former ELs reclassified during middle school (grades six-eight), and (4) former ELs reclassified during high school (grades nine-11) or still EL in 12th grade.

Overall they found that EL students had lower rates of four-year college enrollment than Never EL students. Not surprising. But they also found that the difference in four-year college enrollment between EL and Never EL students was smallest for students reclassified in elementary school and largest for students reclassified in high school.

In other words, and most importantly, they found:

“If EL students took the same number of college-level courses as Never EL students, differences in four-year college enrollment between EL and Never EL students would reduce.”

The FE Coalition is not surprised at the notion that if schools can hold ELs to high standards, at the very least to the standards of Never EL students, and find ways to more quickly move them out of EL classification and expose them to college-level course taking, then EL students, many of whom are Hispanic, will have a larger window of opportunity to meet and exceed expectations and increase their chances for college enrollment.

Pastors and faith leaders, this is huge. The Hispanic community has a deep appreciation for education. But given the results of this research, perhaps we should consider exchange saying “education is important” for saying “a high standard of education is important.” Why? Because those standards have huge implications for whether or not our hijos and hijas will enter and complete college.

For a deeper look into HERC’s study visit here.

I pray this articles gives you something new to think about and fight for in the ministry of advancing Hispanic student achievement.

Forward and higher in Christ,

Rev. Girien R. Salazar
Executive Director, FE Coalition