Match Language Support Programs to Community Needs

group of people joining hands, team, supportAn increased focus on international student recruitment has diversified the student body and—in some cases—helped fill in the funding gaps of higher education institutions battling ongoing budget cuts. But these growing numbers of international students require expanded support systems, especially in English language learning. In the face of limited funds, some institutions are banding together with local communities in building a comprehensive support system that spans education and career—a win for higher ed, communities, and students.

Model Initiatives

A recent story published on Inside Higher Ed profiles several cities working on this type of “town-gown” collaboration. For example, a diverse group of stakeholders in St. Louis came together from government, business, and higher ed to address a skills deficit in the community. “St. Louis found that while there were about 23,000 jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields advertised last year, there were only about 2,000 job-seekers in those fields.” The fact that international students tend to study STEM fields at higher rates than domestic students inspired the Global Talent Hiring Program. This program is designed to encourage international students in these fields to stay in the region after graduation by supporting them with courses, internships, and mentoring.

Key Factors

English language proficiency “[plays] a large role in the overall social and academic success of international students,” note authors of a recent white paper. The Chronicle of Higher Education also reports that poor English language skills can isolate international students, both on and off campus. And if international students feel isolated, they’re not likely to want to put down roots in the local community after graduation.

Language Takes Center Stage

Ultimately, it’s to everyone’s benefit to increase support systems for English language learners. Language-learning software, mentoring programs, and networking courses are just a few of the strategies these budding programs can turn to. With better language skills and a stronger social network, international students succeed in a way that can benefit higher ed, government, business, and the community at large. And with all stakeholders involved, the financial and logistical burden of developing support systems can be lessened.

What are some of the needs of your local community? Has there been a dialogue between community and higher ed leaders about coordinating student language support programs and community needs—international or otherwise? Share your experiences or ideas with us, and pass this article along to a colleague in higher ed or leader in your local community!

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