Training Immigrants in the Culture and Language of the Workplace – Part 3: Overcoming Challenges to Build Strategies for Success

In this final installment of our three-part blog series on the American Culture and Language Institute’s Part-Time ESL Career Readiness program, we focus on some of the challenges faced by international and immigrant students and how ACLI’s staff helps them overcome barriers and navigate a clear path to employment.

 Challenges Faced

The largest challenge facing international and immigrant students is the fact that ACLI is a self-funded program, funded through student tuition. These students cannot use Pell Grants or other financial aid to pay for ACLI ESL classes. In an effort to remain affordable, ACLI has kept tuition increases to a minimum and remains competitive with other community college-based ESL programs. However, if NOVA could secure grant funding for ESL students—which it seeks occasionally—it would improve student outcomes by allowing the continuation of their studies.

A secondary challenge facing international and resident students at NOVA is the perceived duplication of ESL programs at the college. While ACLI acts as a feeder program into College ESL, a lack of sequential-level identification across both programs often confuses prospective students. NOVA has expedited the transition between the two programs through the use of a Bridge Writing Exam. ACLI also implemented a college-wide placement test of writing, speaking, and listening, and college-wide objective statements for each ACLI level.

Strategies for Success: Why It Works

Staffing: NOVA has created a new centralized staff position—ESL & TESOL Program Developer and Instructional Designer Cynthia Hatch—to evaluate and lead the Career Readiness redesign of ACLI ESL programs across five campuses. Hatch is also responsible for leading a college-wide curriculum review team.

Assessment: ACLI staff conducts thorough needs assessments via pre- and post-tests. They conduct a post-program assessment involving all stakeholders, such as students, instructors, and contract employers.

Professional Development: NOVA provides its ACLI instructors with ongoing professional development via annual Teacher Appreciation Days—mini-conferences with teacher trainers from NOVA Workforce’s TESOL Certificate Program, instructors, and guest speakers.

Partnerships: Internal partnerships across NOVA’s campuses are critical to ACLI’s success, and there are several efforts to improve the transition of ACLI students into college-level programs. Staff in the for-credit College ESL program help ACLI students advance by evaluating exit-level Intensive English Program students’ readiness to enter the College ESL program, via the Accuplacer Exam and a Bridge Writing Exam. NOVA Workforce’s Student Success Advisors provide career and college advising for ACLI students interested in pursuing credit or noncredit workforce credential programs.

Finally, also critical to ACLI’s success is the number of external partners—such as local literacy councils, public schools, and nonprofit organizations—that regularly refer ESL students to ACLI to continue to study English or enter College ESL. International entities such as the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and universities in Turkey and Brazil have provided funding for student scholarships and faculty professional development.

Steven B. Partridge, NOVA Workforce vice president, noted, The life cycle of educational programs is getting shorter; therefore educational institutions must constantly redesign our offerings to meet the needs of today’s diverse workforce. To ensure we develop the skills demanded by employers, we must be intentional in creating meaningful training for students and employers, while also ensuring any training we offer is both stackable and has a clear path to real-world employment opportunities. With NOVA Workforce’s Career Readiness program, for the first time, English-language learners can transition from contextualized ESL instruction to Workforce Credentials programs, thereby providing students with a pathway to earn credentials in Northern Virginia’s high-demand sectors.”


This is the final installment of a three-part series on training immigrants in the culture and language of the workplace. The full case study on how Northern Virginia Community College supports immigrant and international students through its American Culture and Language Institute can be found here.

Please share your comments @CCCIE or success stories in a short paragraph description on Facebook. Let us know why it was a success. Does your college have successful business models to build career pathways for immigrant students to transition them from ESL to the workplace? What is the role of employer partnerships to make this transition a success? We’d like to hear from you!