Over the last several months, leaders of Congress have signaled unprecedented willingness to advance immigration reform, legislation that would augment opportunities for many prospective students to pursue higher education and qualify for federal and state financial aid. The details and scope of this round of immigration reform have yet to emerge. Yet, the steady work of a bipartisan Congressional commission and the general optimism expressed from all sides of the aisle suggest that in the foreseeable future, an influx of English Language Learner (ELL) prospective students could enter the market for higher education, dovetailing with the current trend towards an increasingly diverse student population.
In light of these shifts, institutions of higher education have an opportunity to grow enrollments and foster the academic success of ELL students. But in spite of improvements and initiatives by the government and institutions alike, the college application process, and, in particular, the attainment of federal financial aid remains opaque and misunderstood to many prospective students with little knowledge and experience in this realm. Without increased investment in this area, the challenges will grow more pressing as institutions of higher education attempts to engage with a prospective student market of unprecedented diversity.
The current challenges related to educational access persists at great cost to society as a whole. Students without knowledge of the system are less likely to pursue higher education altogether and, thereby, achieve their full academic and professional potential. By proactively reaching out to ELL prospective students to inform them about the opportunities available to them – including to those students currently ineligible for any immigration-related aid – universities can both establish good standing within culturally diverse communities as well as empower students to access available financial resources.
A proactive approach particularly makes sense for institutions that struggle to engage a diverse student market and, as a result, fail to meet their yield and enrollment goals. Just as with any demographic, to engage these prospective students means engaging their parents. One of the key findings from this year’s Eduventures College Bound Market Update is that parents are more involved than ever before in the college search process, acting as true partners with substantial influence. Notably, this is equally true for parents of first-generation college students – those parents who did not attend college themselves. Since ELL learners tend more than the average to come from households of parents who did not attend American universities, it is essential to inform these parents of the opportunities available to prospective students. This could mean simply distributing information about financial aid, scholarships, career services, and academic support in multiple languages. Richer engagement and more sophisticated outreach would require a nuanced understanding of the various cultural factors at play beyond linguistic differences, especially for those students from communities where many of their friends and neighbors have similar backgrounds. In many cases, universities have an opportunity in their proverbial – and literal – backyard to engage with a local community if admissions counselors can make the case that the “college next door” is affordable, attainable, and worthwhile.
Amid sweeping demographic shifts, K-12 educators likewise face challenges related to ELL education. More than ever before, schools of education are charged with, and held accountable for, preparing teachers for today’s classroom landscape. Policymakers, the news media, and organizations such as the National Council for Teacher Quality weigh heavily the success of teachers and their students when assessing educator preparation programs. As schools of education grapple with this growing mandate to demonstrate their value proposition and assess outcomes, the importance of preparing teachers to lead culturally diverse classrooms with more ELL students than ever before has emerged as a key indicator of success. Schools of education can answer this call through coursework that focuses on teaching strategies, cultural fluency, and practical experience that will foster a rigorous, nuanced understanding of the challenges faced by ELL students.
Whether or not Congress succeeds in passing comprehensive immigration reform in the near-term, schools that prepare teachers to work successfully with ELL students today will be better positioned in the event of significant policy change. Because it is so important for institutions of higher education not only to remain abreast of policy developments, but also to play an active role in shaping and influencing education-related laws, Eduventures has developed a series of regular policy briefs: our Federal Policy Updates. The first Federal Policy Update probes in more depth the issues outlined in this piece, providing recommendations and insights into how schools can best prepare teachers for today’s classrooms and how federal policy will impact that experience.
Currently, our Federal Policy Updates are available to our Schools of Education Knowledge Community. If you would like to engage further with the work we do in this area, please contact your Client Services Advisor or Jeff Rudberg. You can also contact us if you’d like to gain access to this year’s College Bound Market Update, Parent Market Update, and Graduate Market Update, all of which are available to our Enrollment Management Knowledge Community.