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English Learners and ESL Programs in the Community College: A Review of the Literature

English Learners and ESL Programs in the Community College: A Review of the Literature

Demographic and postsecondary enrollment data suggest that the proportion of community college students who need support to access curricula in English is large and will continue to grow in the coming years. Yet there is limited research on the postsecondary experiences and outcomes of these English learners, and most of the studies that are available focus exclusively on the subset of English learners who enroll in ESL courses.

Informed by relevant research literature, this paper examines factors within the community college context that affect the experiences and academic outcomes of the English learner population broadly and, given that they can be more easily identified and have been the subject of much more study, students who enroll in ESL courses in particular. The paper describes English learners and their academic needs and strengths and provides a brief discussion of the national and state policy landscape regarding English learner students. It then provides perspectives from the research literature on ESL assessment and placement, instructional delivery, and student identity. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the implications of these findings for policy, practice, and future research.

In June 2019 small revisions were made on pp. 13 and 16 of this paper to better clarify the influence of Assembly Bill 705 on English learners in California.