Community College ESL programs in the U.S. are reporting a shift in priorities. They are making adjustments to their curricula to better accommodate two groups of students. These groups are those students who want to go on to get a degree after their ESL classes and those who are studying English to improve their situation at work, home, and generally in the English-speaking world.
Academic vs. Non-Academic classes
These community colleges are doing their best to meet the needs of both groups. General English students need to be able to communicate at work as well as in various stores, doctor’s offices, etc. Academic prep students, however, also need higher-level vocabulary and grammar. They also need very specific academic skills such as note-taking and essay writing.
Not a new situation, but a new mix
There have always been students who want to move on to mainstream coursework and those who want to improve their English and move on. Until recently, though, most community college ESL programs were populated mostly by non-academic-track students. Now, more students are expressing a desire for more academic focus in their ESL classroom, and curriculum designers are moving to meet their needs.
This trend is still emerging, so firm conclusions will have to wait. Some early reports from California, however, indicate that those community college ESL programs which are adding more academic content and focus are seeing a boost in their overall enrollment.