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Kentucky Dream Coalition and Bluegrass Community and Technical College

Defining the Problem that Brought the Team Together
Although the Brookings Institute reports that Lexington ranks second in a list of the 100 largest U.S. cities with Latino population change from 2000 to 2007, the city has few organizations dedicated to working with immigrants. Employment data for the Latino immigrant population indicates that there is an opportunity to impact Latino family income. Pew Hispanic Center reports that in 2010, the Kentucky median income of Hispanics 16 years or older was $18,000, compared to $25,500 for non-Hispanic Whites in the same age group. Data on educational attainment indicates that only 19.7% of Latinos in Kentucky have an associate’s degree or higher (Lumina Foundation 2014). Additionally, forty-two percent (42%) of Lexington's Latino adults lack a high school diploma and of the 15% of Latinos enrolled in higher education, and only 13% obtain a degree.

On a yearly basis, the Kentucky Dream Coalition conducts a survey of Latino youth and families to gauge their knowledge of higher educational opportunities. On average, about a third of respondents do not know about the post-secondary opportunities available to them. Combatting widespread ignorance about educational opportunities will be a key part of the partnership. Other hurdles include the language barrier (only 23% of those surveyed responded that they “spoke English very well”), cost, and inaccessible financial aid due to documentation status. These barriers result in low family income and high levels of family poverty.

Description of the Partners
Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) supports access, success, and completion of educational goals through comprehensive and responsive programs and services at six campuses across the Central Kentucky. BCTC provides the region with a skilled workforce, through high-quality career and technical programs, workforce training, and continuing education and prepares students for transfer to baccalaureate degree programs, to promote regional economic vitality through diversity and inclusion. The College enrolls around 11,000 students annually in a region of Kentucky that has experienced rapid growth in immigration over the last decade. In response to this immigrant expansion, BCTC established the Office of Latino Outreach and Support Services more than 10 years ago. Since then, immigrant settlement has increased and diversified. For example, Lexington is the third largest resettlement location of Congolese refugees in the U.S.

Kentucky Dream Coalition (KDC) is a broad-based youth and young adult community network created to help immigrant youth and their parents access higher education through mentoring, programming and advocacy. In addition to the KDC’s strong advocacy for immigration reform, KDC members focus on helping youth stay in school, helping adults to connect to GED programs, and assisting students to make plans for college and serve their community though meaningful leadership development, and empowerment projects. KDC is also home to The DREAM Educational Empowerment Program (DEEP). DEEP is a catalyst for educational justice and empowerment for all immigrant students whose goal is to educate, connect, and empower immigrant students, parents and educators to close the opportunity gap and engage in local efforts to improve educational equity. KDC is a perfect community partner to connect with BCTC because of its broadly engaged Latino community, its national network connections, and its focus on educational access and achievement in the Bluegrass region.

Original Work Plan
The Bluegrass Community & Technical College (BCTC) / Kentucky Dream Coalition (KDC) partnership united to create and support a pathway for immigrant/Latino students to enter high paying jobs in the field of biotechnology, a growth industry in the region. BCTC has a national reputation as a prominent supporter of immigrant education and graduates Latino students at a higher rate than other higher education institution in the region. Thus, based on the knowledge of the partners and the community dynamics, the team identified three goals that they hoped to achieve as part of BCPIW.

  1. Develop a bilingual pathway for Latino students in biotechnology.

  2. Develop marketing materials about the new pathway. Increase the number of events offered by KDC to make more Latinos aware of biotechnology as a career option.

  3. Work with college administration to change the “Mandatory Placement” policy at BCTC to accommodate ESL students in the biotechnology pathway.

Progress -to-Date
Working with employers, the faculty identified 17 credit hours of study that leads to an entry-level biotechnology certificate pathway for immigrant/Latino students. These courses teach the necessary language, concepts and mathematical tools for entry level jobs in laboratory employment. To support this new biotechnology certificate, the faculty adopted four 3-credit bearing ESL classes in lieu of noncredit classes for advanced Speaking/Listening, Reading, and Writing. This allows students to complete the ESL/developmental sequence within the Federal financial guidelines of 30 credit hours, since the advanced classes are now no longer considered developmental.

Currently at the college, there are no clear pathways or support mechanisms to help AE/ESL students transition into technical programs. The team worked with the adult education department to develop a workshop for faculty with provides them with the tools they need to support AE/ESL student who wish to make the transition to credit programs. This workshop identifies the transition processes and procedures, provides faculty with contact information for key staff/faculty at the college. Essentially, this workshop helps to improve college processes and create a clear pathway to credit technical programs for AE/ESL students.

To improve the promotion of the biotechnology program, the team, in conjunction with the faculty, developed a calendar of local events and venues related to the immigrant/Latino community so the college can target market the new program option. The team created the English language content for marketing materials to promote biotechnology careers and presented a biotechnology workshop at the 2015 Latino Multicultural College Fair at Eastern Kentucky University where more than 500 students from 12 central KY high schools participated. Also, the team has scheduled a “Take your GED/ESL to college night’ for April 2016 to present the biotechnology workshop to current AE/ESL students.

Impact of the Initiative and Lessons Learned
As the initiative progressed, the team learned that ‘Intentionality’ is an important process that the college needs to adopt. Many of the College’s processes do not take into account immigrant students. For example, the “Mandatory Placement” policy at BCTC is the policy that controls enrollment of developmental and ESL students (those not deemed college-ready students as attested by ACT or COMPASS scores). Students are required to complete the developmental or ESL sequence before entering college level classes. This delays student entry into career pathways. As another example, when evaluating transcripts from other countries the college would routinely assign elective credit instead of transfer credit which could impede the student’s acceleration to degree completion. As a result, the team is looking at other college policies in an “intentional” manner to ascertain if they too impede the success of immigrant students.

One office that implements intentionality as its basic operational ethos is the Office of Latino Outreach. The team hopes to extend this ethos to other areas of the college that affect immigrant student outcomes. As such, the college needs an Immigrant student coordinator/navigator who can link the different college processes and navigate bottlenecks. Currently, the college has coordinators/navigators for Latino Students and Military/Veteran students. Adoption of this model to assist all immigrants would improve student access to, and completion of, credentials leading to careers.

The college also needs to improve other career pathways options. The website has online career information, however, this website is difficult to negotiate and is edited across many different areas of the college. Thus, the college needs to undergo a website update in an “intentional” process to help immigrant students make the connection between ABE/ESL courses and career options.

As with any institution of higher education, the team has struggled with making change. Because curriculum in the state of KY’s community college system is considered “state-wide” curriculum, any changes to the curriculum can take more than 18 months to implement, and only then if approval is obtained across the system. Rather than develop new curriculum to facilitate immigrant enrollment into the biotechnology career pathway, the team adopted biotech courses that had been developed as part of the Accelerated Opportunity (AO) project. However, to help Latinos recognize the opportunity as a viable career pathway, the team recognized the importance of bilingual materials to promote the certificate program. Finally, to accommodate Latino students, the college’s mandatory placement policy, which restrict ABE/ESL student enrollment, needed to be addressed. Thus the development of the contextualized curriculum embedding biotechnology with ESL and literacy skill development. These broad scale changes on several fronts have delayed enrollment with a new target date of Fall 2016.

Future Plans and Sustainability of the Partnership
The team is committed to improving access to the biotechnology career pathway for Latino students. They are working with the college’s marketing department to develop bilingual promotional materials to promote biotechnology careers. They are also working with the marketing department to review other college marketing materials for culturally appropriate language. Through partnerships with other departments on campus, they are seeking wider college input such that default processes are more “intentional” and beneficial for immigrant student access and credentialing. And they are continuing their efforts to secure financial support via grants to create and support a position of an immigrant educational coordinator.

Finally, the team’s work is expanding beyond the biotechnology program. The team has engaged in initial conversations with the Adult Education Directors to investigate the creation and implementation of an ESL health/sciences curriculum option for immigrant students who wish to pursue or recertify in careers in healthcare or biological sciences. The current curriculum is designed such that all AE/ESL students follow the same curriculum, with no consideration given to all of the career options available in healthcare at the college.

Dr. Jim Fenton, Associate Professor, ESL/Humanities Writing Coordinator, Bluegrass Community Technical College
Dr. Deborah Davis, Biotechnology Coordinator, Bluegrass Community Technical College
Gaby Baca, Coordinator of the Latino Outreach Center and Kentucky Dream Coalition Core Team Member
Veva Segura, Kentucky Dream Coalition Core Member

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