Welcoming Immigrant Students

from the VDOE

What can our data tell us about the English learners in our adult education programs?  Much of what is revealed in the statewide data is evident in your classes, programs, and communities. Our English learners come from around the world, have diverse educational backgrounds, and speak a wide range of other languages. Beyond what the data show, however, we know that they bring a range of perspectives and experiences to our class discussions and enrich our understanding of their native countries, as well as our own as we see American culture through their experiences here.

Before we begin an article on data trends, however, we must acknowledge that the years of the COVID-19 pandemic have been especially difficult for our immigrant communities. Whether they are essential workers working in challenging circumstances, confronting health access disparities and illness in their families, or staying home to help their children with online schooling, adult English learners have had less time for their own education. Again and again, the paragraphs below will reference the fact that the program year (PY) of 2020–2021 shows a dip in enrollment among English learners. The preliminary data available now (June) for PY 2021–2022 indicate that our student population is stabilizing and enrollment patterns—if not totals—are nearly back to pre-pandemic patterns. We are grateful to the instructors and administrators who weathered the disruptions with creativity and who continue to welcome students and offer instruction.  And, we truly appreciate the commitment of the learners who persisted and those who have returned. 

Below are some statewide trends that you can share with your students to spark discussions about their communities, their dreams, and their goals for education, integration, and employment. 

We teach English. English language acquisition (a.k.a. English for speakers of other languages or ESOL) and integrated English literacy and civics education (IELCE) programming account for the majority of the total student enrollment in Virginia—except for PY 2019–2020 when it dropped below 50 percent. The preliminary data for the current year, PY 2021–2022, show that we are back to the trend of having well over half of our students enrolled in ESOL or IELCE classes. 

We serve minorities, mostly women. Hispanic students are the largest demographic group in our statewide data, accounting for approximately 40 percent of our total enrollment. Hispanic women, specifically, are the largest single group served in the state. Our male student population was significantly lower during PY 2020–2021, dropping to below 30 percent of the total enrollment. The preliminary data for PY 2021–2022 show that women make up 68 percent of the student population. 

We teach immigrants. Not surprisingly, given the enrollment in ESOL and IELCE classes, we see that the majority of our students are immigrants who began their education abroad.  A consistent 60+ percent of our students began their education outside of the U.S. except for the PY 2020–2021 when this percentage dipped to 56 percent. 

A majority of our immigrant students have secondary or postsecondary credentials. Another consistent pattern is that well over half of the foreign educated students we serve have more than a high school diploma or equivalent. In fact, did you know that every year including the current year but excluding PY 2020–2021, Virginia has served over 2,000 immigrant students who already have a postsecondary or professional degree when they enroll with adult education?  

Our students speak a wide variety of languages. While adult education reporting requirements do not include the collection and reporting of preferred languages, our Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) partners at the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) do collect that information. Their data show that for individuals seeking services at the VEC, the most commonly preferred non-English language in Virginia is Spanish, followed by Korean, Amharic, Arabic, Vietnamese, Persian, Urdu, Tagalog, and Chinese. This information reflects the data collected by the American Community Survey, which is presented graphically on DataUSA.io/profile/geo/virginia

How are these trends reflected in your classes or programs? Discuss these data points and explore the DataUSA website with your students to understand what instructional and career pathways your program can offer to support immigrant students’ educational and career needs and goals. 


Enhancing Access for Refugees and New Americans logo

This summer, the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education’s (OCTAE)  Enhancing Access for Refugees and New Americans project is hosting a seminar series to highlight diverse strategies and practices in adult education for serving immigrant and refugee populations and increasing their economic, civic, and linguistic integration into their communities. The Expanding Supports for Immigrant Integration series will include three seminars. Dr. Heidi Silver-Pacuilla and the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV) will be contributing.

  1. Expanding Supports for Immigrant Integration: Sustaining Robust Partnerships
    This seminar will showcase strategic approaches to partnership that support IELCE and immigrant integration programming, including using regional partnership approaches.
    Date: July 22nd from 12–1:30pm ET 
  2. Expanding Supports for Immigrant Integration: Creating IELCE Career Pathways
    This seminar will showcase a variety of strategies for supporting immigrants and refugees in career pathways. Strategies include incremental credentialing, on-ramps and bridges to IELCE/IET programming, and the use of navigators.  
    Date: August 11th from 3–4:30pm ET | Register Now!
  3. Expanding Supports for Immigrant Integration: Engaging Diverse Populations
    This seminar will highlight state policies, service models, and practices that engage diverse populations, including internationally trained professionals (ITPs) and learners with emerging levels of English proficiency and/or literacy.
    Date: August 18th from 1–2:30pm ET | Register Now!

Questions or requests about the series can be made by sending an email to the Enhancing Access Project Team at EARN@rti.org.


Special News!

Please join us in congratulating our VDOE colleagues!

Dr. Sue Mansfield was honored as GED® State Administrator of the Year at the GED®  Annual Conference in Atlanta.

Dr. Heidi Silver-Pacuilla has been selected to serve as NASDAE Chair-Elect, a position that she started on July 1, 2022.

Improving Equity and Access to Quality CTE Programs for English Learners logo

Virginia has been featured in Advance CTE’s News Brief:Improving Equity and Access to Quality CTE Programs for English Learners and VDOE’s Career and Technical Education Newsletter. In the article, Making Good on the Promise: Improving Equity and Access to Quality CTE Programs for English Learners, Virginia is cited for having “developed and disseminated a catalog of industry credentials that included testing accommodations for ELs” (p. 6).

All News