Diversity and Democracy

Community Colleges as Critical Gateways for Immigrant Education

The United States is home to more than 38 million people who were born in other countries, more than three times the foreign-born population in 1970 (Terrazas and Batalova 2008). Now representing one of every eight people in the overall population, immigrants have transformed and will continue to transform our neighborhoods, our schools, and our workforce, where they remain an essential source for the nation's labor pool. Providing effective education for immigrants is thus crucial not only for their personal success, but for the economic and cultural health of the United States.

An artist’s rendering depicts Westchester Community College’s new Gateway Center for immigrant and international students. The center is currently under construction and is projected to open in Spring 2010.
An artist’s rendering depicts Westchester Community College’s new Gateway Center for immigrant and international students. The center is currently under construction and is projected to open in Spring 2010

As baby boomers look forward to retirement over the next two decades, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that 60 percent of the fastest-growing jobs will require either an associate's or bachelor's degree (2007). Community colleges have recently gained the spotlight as the surest and most accessible path to higher education, and consequentially to successful careers. They are the educational choice for 44 percent of college students, who either go on to further education or move directly into the workforce (American Association of Community Colleges 2009).

One in four of today's community college students are immigrants or children of immigrants (Connell 2008). With these ratios, the issue of immigrant education in community colleges demands urgent attention. Community colleges serve as "gateways" to higher education for many immigrants and their children. They provide access to the education, skills training, and English language proficiency that is crucial for immigrants to successfully integrate into and contribute to their communities and the country. 

Meeting the Challenges

Best Practices for Immigrant Education

The Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education is currently gathering “best practices” from community colleges across the country. If your college offers a program or service that successfully meets the needs of immigrant students, please consider submitting it for our Web site catalog. The submission form, along with links to selected best practices, is available at www.sunywcc.edu/cccie/bestpractices.htm.

—Teresita Wisell and Linda Champanier

New Americans' educational needs represent a vast opportunity for community colleges, but many colleges are far from prepared to meet these needs. A recent report by the Brookings Institute, Economic Mobility of Immigrants in the United States, notes that while immigrants' overall educational attainment has remained constant since 1970, the net number of people who arrive in the United States with less than a college education has increased dramatically (Haskins 2007). The increased demand for immigrant education, including developmental education and English language training, has exceeded many community colleges' capacity.

Now more than ever, community colleges need to organize a concerted effort to share expertise and innovative strategies to provide the best possible education for immigrants. Advocacy for immigrants' access to excellent education is essential, and the community college sector must take the lead in supporting immigrant education.

Westchester Community College (WCC), located in Valhalla, New York (just thirty miles north of New York City) recently demonstrated its commitment to immigrant education by building the Gateway Center, a seventy-thousand-square-foot building dedicated to immigrant and international students. Scheduled to open in May 2010, the center will provide targeted programs to help motivated immigrant and international students gain the educations they need for meaningful careers while building intercultural understanding.

One of the Gateway Center's most valuable components is the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE). Founded in July 2008 with a grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the support of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), CCCIE provides a national voice for immigrant education. The consortium encourages leaders in immigrant education to raise awareness by presenting, publishing, exchanging ideas, and sharing effective practices, and supports the community college sector's contributions to education and workforce development.

Consortium Goals

In its first year, CCCIE established a Blue Ribbon Panel (BRP) consisting of representatives from community colleges and professional associations, as well as experts in the field of immigrant integration. The BRP currently includes members from sixteen leading community colleges across the country, and from professional organizations such as the AACC, the Migration Policy Institute, and the American Council on Education. The BRP works with the director to set CCCIE's agenda and to work toward the consortium's goals.

During the BRP's first year, its members came together to discuss their perspectives on the challenges facing community colleges and immigrant students. Based on these conversations, the BRP created an agenda for CCCIE's future activities. During its second year (2009-10), CCCIE's work will revolve around several pivotal issues:

  1. Visibility and public awareness: The continued creation of initiatives and partnerships that promote community colleges' important role in educating immigrants
  2. Best practices: The identification of successful practices among community colleges and their partners, and of effective vehicles to assist community colleges in replicating these practices
  3. Recognition of immigrant students' skills and talents: The creation of clear and consistent career pathways for immigrants that recognize the education, skills, and talents immigrants bring from outside the United States  
  4. Public education and advocacy:  The leveraging of opportunities for community colleges to educate the public about how effective education and training for immigrants contributes to the economic and social well-being of our communities and nation  

The national conversation about immigrant education has only just begun, but community colleges are well positioned to meet the needs of this growing student population. By helping our newest neighbors successfully integrate into U.S. society, community colleges will contribute to the overall health of the economy and fortify the country's social fabric. Past evidence confirms that community colleges, which offer the most affordable routes to higher education, are bridges to achievement for the workforce of the future. By providing education that meets immigrants' needs, community colleges can have a tremendous impact for decades to come.

For more information about the CCCIE's work, visit www.sunywcc.edu/cccie.


American Association of Community Colleges. 2009. Fast facts.www.aacc.nche.edu/AboutCC/Pages/fastfacts.aspx.

Connell, C. 2008. The vital role of community colleges in the education and training of immigrants. Sebastopol, CA: Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees.

Haskins, R. 2007. Economic mobility of immigrants in the United States. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/

Terrazas, A., and J. Batalova. 2008. The most up-to-date frequently requested statistics on immigrants in the United States. Migration Policy Institute.www.migrationinformation.org/USfocus/display.cfm?id=714.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2007. Economic and employment projections 2004-2014.www.bls.gov/news.release/ecopro.toc.htm.

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