A good college education is becoming more critical than ever in most societies. The significance of college education has been a relevant and pressing issue in the education system and among stakeholders at both local and national levels. For immigrant families, college education for graduating high school students has been viewed as a crucial determinant of preparation for life in the modern working environment and the global community (Mitchell, 2021). However, the need to examine the college readiness of graduating English Language Learners (ELLs) has been an equally important subject in education, especially among immigrant families and multicultural communities. Ensuring that all students graduating from high school are ready for advanced college studies has been a top priority in national and local education sectors. The greatest need for educating ELLs is to develop a group of students with the choice of attending college. As the ELL population grows among K-12 students, the growing concern of college readiness among graduating ELLs is creating lasting implications in the country’s education sector.  

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Currently, college readiness for ELLs is determined through test scores and various scholarly procedures. ELLs face a significant challenge in learning a new language and academic subjects simultaneously. This challenge has been a significant national concern due to the rapidly growing rate of immigrants and ELL students nationwide. The American Census Bureau estimates that by 2030, immigrant populations will have grown to 54 million (Mitchell, 2021). Consequently, the number of ELLs is expected to increase at an unprecedented rate. Lopez and Iribarren (2014) assert that the Latino population accounts for the largest minority population in the country. Higher rates are equally noticeable among other non-English speaking populations, including the Chinese, French, and Vietnamese in the United States. By 2021, there were 4.9 million ELLs in the U.S. (Mitchell, 2021).

The resultant implication of immigrant populations in America’s education system is a vastly growing rate of ELL students whose learning capabilities are impacted by sufficient difficulties in reading, speaking, understanding, or writing the English language. Many ELL students find it challenging to cope with the general K-12 student population. This challenge has significantly raised the issue of how the ELL high school student population is effectively prepared to handle the complexities of a college education (Flores & Drake, 2014). In this regard, achievement gaps among ELL and English-speaking students widen and highlight the significance of college preparedness among ELLs as an underserved population (Mitchell, 2021). Despite this significant challenge, more ELLs are demonstrating aspiration to attend and complete college. Large-scale education reforms have served as a substantial step toward addressing the growing rate of ELL students (Lakin & Young, 2013).

The issue of college readiness among ELLs has become more significant among graduating college students despite the reforms made in the education sector. National statistics for the K-12 student population show that nearly one in five students speak a language other than English at home. The primary concern in their readiness for college is if these students can sustain a college education and still have a good command of English. Lakin and Young (2013)state that completion rates can examine college readiness. Currently, the completion rate for non-English speaking groups varies with different variables such as location and institution. The current rate for post-secondary graduation includes 36% Asian students, 34% pacific islanders, 23% black students, and 30% Hispanic students. Black students record the highest college dropout rates at 54% (Hanson & Checked, 2021). Academic performance and outcomes have demonstrated significant differences between ELLs and English-speaking students. Notably, these differences proliferated in college completion and employment rates.           

Related Research

College readiness among graduating ELLs has been a persistent topic in research and relevant stakeholder reports. Jenna Shim (2013)explains that college readiness involves students’ above-average preparation levels to enroll and succeed in general education courses. This definition has been a premise for various academic requirements and policies related to teaching and learning quality for ELLs and ESLs. Niehaus and Adelson (2014)emphasize that teaching must meaningfully benefit all students even if their English language proficiency is limited. Further, Shim’s research article concludes that for education to successfully serve the needs of all students, it should be subjected to more research on current practices (Shim, 2013). In this regard, the college readiness among ELLs subject demands that all students in the American high school education system be taught through high academic standards to effectively prepare them for college. An examination of the country’s education systems shows that it has not yet achieved the ultimate high standards that effectively cater to the needs of both ELLs and ESLs (Slama, 2012).

Learning the English language is a processual activity that goes beyond academic settings into other social institutions and society. However, through experimental research, Ryan (2013) demonstrates that the challenges in learning and using the English language among ELLs equally go beyond academic settings. Generally, this reflects poorly on the overall performance of other subjects and educational activities, which consequently affects readiness for higher education. Contreras and Fujimoto (2018) reiterate the assertions made in the 2018national academic report, which stated that high school education particularly requires intensive interventions to achieve a high and desirable readiness level for college education. Test proficiency among high school students broadly shows slow progress among ELLs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2016), achievement gaps among graduating high school students are not specific to urban areas and extend to rural areas. Niehaus and Adelson (2014)show that despite the increase in ELL enrolment in colleges and tertiary institutions, many do not complete their higher education degrees. This can largely be attributed to unpreparedness and other factors such as financial challenges.  

In the analysis made by the U.S. Department of Education on academic outcomes between ELLs and ESLs, the prevailing opinion among various scholars is that it is unrealistic to expect proficient scores among ELLs by using standardized tests. This is especially significant when specific considerations such as ELLs’ enrolment period are not factored effectively in standardized testing. In this regard, Niehaus and Adelson (2014)state that graduating high school students in the current education system are not effectively prepared for college because the consensus on second language acquisition has not effectively communicated that learners require more than memorizing a system of grammatical rules. Lakin and Young (2013)suggest that high school ELLs should be served in a way that acknowledges that increasing English proficiency is a natural progression. Thus, effectively preparing high school ELLs for a college education requires contextual language proficiency development beyond academic settings to include social interactions and conversational proficiency.

Research by Niehaus and Adelson (2014)purports that the rate of conversational proficiency and English language use for social interaction among immigrant communities is still too low. Thus, the expectation of adequate preparation of ELLs for college education increasingly becomes unrealistic and unachievable. According to Contreras and Fujimoto (2018), early development of basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) is a precursor to practical college readiness among ELLs. Various policy considerations have been a significant part of exploring college readiness among graduating high school ELLs. Ryan (2013)studied multiple reforms, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reforms, to identify the link between policy considerations and achievement gaps between ELLs and English Speaking Learners (ESLs).

According to Sanchez (2017), large-scale education reforms have been significant determinants of college readiness among ELLs. However, Shim (2013)opposes this idea, arguing that existing reforms in the education sector are not sufficiently supported by unbiased assessment languages, pre-service teacher curriculums, and systemic examinations of current practices, which are crucial in determining college readiness among both ELLs and ESLs. In addition to addressing language proficiency in the education system, policy considerations must address equitable curriculums to help ELLs benefit from equitable learning opportunities. These opportunities can create conditions that allow them to eventually reach higher levels of language proficiency as part of the preparation process for college education.          


An extensive body of literature supports the fact that ELLs are not fully ready for college education by the time of their high school graduation. This problem is influenced and supported by various factors that act as barriers to practical college readiness. As groups of people facing multiple challenges, ELLs struggle greatly, particularly in acquiring language proficiency (U.S. Department of Education, 2022). Acquiring proficiency within a given time frame is dependent on various factors, including institutional and policy considerations that acknowledge the challenges ELLs face (Contreras & Fujimoto, 2018). From the reviewed literature, it is evident that ELLs are largely subjected to self-monitoring and must demonstrate hard work to achieve some level of language and test proficiency. However, this is not enough to prepare graduating high school ELLs for college education (Lopez & Iribarren, 2014). Despite the difficulties in acquiring a second language, ELLs are subjected to similar standardized tests, which complicate the preparation process for college education.

Generally, college readiness among ELLs rests on multiple factors not being effectively met in the current education system. While most high school ELLs are subjected to equal learning opportunities as ESLs, the quality of academic content and instructions does not meet the desired requirements for practical college readiness (Goodwin, 2014). It is crucial for learning institutions to acknowledge that not all ELL students are ready for a college education due to poorly addressed college readiness factors such as acquiring communicative language proficiency (Flores & Drake, 2014). Achievement gaps are becoming a growing concern in approaching college readiness among ELLs, given the significant performance differences between ELLs and ESLs (U.S. Department of Education, 2022). The challenge of college readiness among ELLs is worsened by other obstacles, including lack of linguistic capital, low track placement, and poor community resources (Lakin & Young, 2013). Collectively, these challenges amount to a significant support deficit for ELLs, thus affecting the readiness level for college education (Lakin & Young, 2013).  

More effort needs to be placed on ELLs’ college preparedness by taking a systematic and pragmatic stance on the various obstacles to learning and communicating, in addition to addressing the existing achievement gaps. A good starting point for all stakeholders is developing communicative literacy in all social institutions. When ELLs develop better communication skills in their different environments, including home and school, it is easier to facilitate better college preparedness and academic development (Flores & Drake, 2014). Having programs that sustain social and academic support for ELLs is also a promising area that would guarantee better preparedness for college education (Goodwin, 2014). Educational programs for high school students should be rolled out early enough to ensure that ELLs have a commendable language and test proficiency to help them handle the complexities of a college education by the time of graduating (Goodwin, 2014).   


A sound education system serves the needs of local and global communities in ways that ensure continuity of development in various sectors. Thus, addressing college readiness among ELLs is a crucial need that must consider the growing rate of immigrant populations and ELLs in the current education system. Early intervention of language proficiency provides better chances of bridging the achievement gaps between ELLs and ESLs before college enrolment (U.S. Department of Education, 2022). The problem of poor preparedness for college education among graduating high school ELLs primarily means that there is a growing need for re-evaluating current teaching practices and policy considerations intended to protect this vulnerable population against poor quality or inconsiderate education (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016). Since the problem is persistent, reformative measures need to account for all literacy programs and efforts to build better capacity for successful college education. Key issues that require further development include language development, building vocabulary, and helping ELLs make sense of both written and spoken language. Relevant stakeholders also need to pay more attention to measurement data, such as the dropout rates among minority groups and students from immigrant families (Hanson & Checked, 2021).


College readiness is perhaps one of the most significant concerns in the current education sector. The rising rate of immigrant students and non-English speaking students nationwide lays a solid foundation for approaching the issue of college readiness among high school graduates from a practical perspective. Research data shows that currently, there are very minimal college readiness rates among graduating high school students. This fact is supported by extensive data, such as higher college dropout rates among ELLs and higher achievement gaps between ELLs and ESLs. These data bear significant implications on policy and practice for higher education. Conclusively, college readiness for ELLs should be addressed promptly to minimize and possibly eradicate the lasting impacts on the country’s education sector and, by extension, other sectors, including the economy.   


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