A Look at ESL Programs in Community College

A Look at ESL Programs in Community College
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ESL programs in community college are just one of their kind serving adults across the United States. School district adult education programs often contain an ESL program; churches and community centers may run their own as well. Nonprofit organizations and universities are two other sources of ESL education in many communities. However, the largest ESL program in the world is at Santa Monica Community College in California, according to JoAnn Crandall and Ken Sheppard in their Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy paper “Adult ESL and the Community College.”

What They Offer

ESL programs in community colleges are generally designed to prepare intermediate to advanced-level ESL students for their academic careers in college. They learn to listen to lectures in English, write essays and reports in English, and they learn higher-level conversation skills. What makes community college ESL different from other ESL programs is that some of them also offer the community at large wider ESL programming. Instead of focusing only on academic English, some ESL classes focus on vocational and survival/life skills English and civics/citizenship. Some contain family literacy and general literacy for adult components as well. These kind of community college programs open up to a much broader base of students who may not be seeking a college degree.

Credit vs. Non-Credit Courses

Generally, community college ESL programs offer both for-credit and not-for-credit classes. For-credit courses are usually higher in level and focus on skills needed in an English-only speaking classroom. Non-credit courses are more basic in content and likely do not cost as much as for-credit classes. They may be altogether free in some programs.

How to Enroll

If you are a resident of the United States, contact the ESL department at your local community college to learn about enrolling. You may enroll as a student in the college, but only take non-credit courses. If you are an international student (not currently living in the U.S.), contact the international student services department of the community college in which you wish to enroll. You will likely need extra documentation, including TOEFL test scores and an international student visa. You must also prove you can sustain yourself financially during your stay in the U.S. Transcripts from secondary and post-secondary schools may also be required for both international and resident students. All ESL students will also likely take an assessment exam to be placed in the correct level of English classes.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Community colleges look to ESL programs to provide additional streams of revenue. They are mainly funded by grants from the federal and state level of government. They are supplemented by private grants occasionally. However, ESL students prefer community colleges in many cases to commercial language schools or universities, because the tuition is less expensive. For example, Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington charges $25 per semester for ESL classes. Financial aid is available to students interested in for-credit classes. Federal grants, for example, can be used in for-credit ESL classes. Some schools offer tuition waivers for non-credit classes, such as Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington.


ESL classes in community colleges are offered throughout the year. Classes are offered at the New York City College of Technology during fall, winter, spring and short summer sessions, for example. The Front Range Community College-Boulder Campus in Longmont, Colorado offers 7 ½ week intensive English sessions every autumn and spring semester as well as one 7 ½ week session in the summer. For students who want to attend ESL classes in the evening, 15-week courses are available.

Community college’s ESL teachers are generally more trained and credentialed than other community-based or nonprofit ESL instructors. They are also more likely to be full-time staff members who receive higher wages than other teachers in other ESL programs. Community colleges can offer access to computer labs, libraries, and academic and career counseling.

ESL in community college is a lively atmosphere, with lessons on everything from how to study to pronunciation. In-house tutors are often available, perhaps for free, to help ESL students progress in their studies and English abilities. Teachers are available to help, and the support network at community colleges for ESL students is usually helpful and extensive. Community colleges provide a safe and challenging environment for ESL students from all walks of life to learn one of the most widely-spoken global languages.


Front Range Community College: English as a Second Language

Council for the Advancement of Adult Literacy: Adult ESL and the Community College

Georgia Perimeter College: English as a Second Language

Highline Community College: ABE/GED/ESL

Nashville State Community College: International F-1 Students