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Boston area “woefully short” of ESOL seats

Seats on English as a second language courses in the Greater Boston area fall “woefully short” for students that require English training to enhance professional skills and further investment is an “economic necessity”, a report has suggested.

Greater Boston's working-age adults with Limited English Proficiency stretches to 240,000 people, the report found. Photo: Wikimedia

"This should not be seen as solely an education problem. It is an economic necessity."

The ROI of ESOL: The Economic and Social Return on Investment for ESOL Programs in Greater Boston report found that there is a “serious shortage” of programs that focus on training for local professionals who have limited English abilities.

“ESOL programs are an affordable and crucial investment”

Annually, 116 programs have a capacity of around 11,600 students, while Greater Boston’s working-age adults with Limited English Proficiency stretches to 240,000 people, the report found.

More specialised ESOL courses for local professionals are needed, it maintained.

Programs that focus on work-related English language education represent just 7%, researchers found, as the majority were classified as general-purpose, or more directly targeted toward citizenship.

The report, published by the Boston Foundation and the Latino Legacy Fund, suggested an increase in vocational and workplace programs would benefit both students and the local economy.

Investing in ESOL “not only gives students access to higher-paying jobs, but it also empowers them to contribute and strengthen the future of Greater Boston”, Aixa Beauchamp, co-chair of the Latino Legacy Fund added.

“ESOL programs are an affordable and crucial investment in building a more just and equitable city and region,” she said.

Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation, noted it was an “economic necessity” to invest in ESOL.

“Despite the fact that immigrants account for virtually all of the population increase powering Greater Boston’s renaissance, we are investing far too little in ESOL, particularly programs with a focus on English language skills for the workplace,” he said.

“This should not be seen as solely an education problem. It is an economic necessity.”

The report also recommends ESOL system areas be transformed. In addition to reducing the gap between capacity and demand, working conditions for ESOL teachers should be improved and student support, such as access to childcare, should be provided.

“Fragmented parts” of the system ought to be aligned to funding streams, data and reporting systems, and other institutional structures and processes, it added.

Beyond Boston, assistant director for Student Affairs at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, Cindy Carr noted that US citizens, permanent residents, refugees and asylees have “always been an important part of our student body”.

Numbers ebb and flow, but on average they represent 10-15% of the student body, she highlighted.

“They add tremendously to the diversity of our program because they are most often originate from countries that do not typically send a lot of F-1 students to the U.S. to study,” she said.

However, Carr noted that specific ways to reach out to the immigrant community have not been identified until now, “but gradually – through word of mouth and our online presence – these folks are finding us”.

“One challenge for this cohort can be that our classes are weekdays during work hours, and many immigrants are already working,” she added.

“The Immigrant Welcome Center in our city hosts an excellent website that we can direct such prospective students to which lists all the English classes in the area and is searchable by the time of the class, cost and location.​”

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