Learning More About English Learner Youth

This post joins an ongoing series, examining trends in needs and services for disconnected youth. (See the first post, 5 Million Reasons to Care About Youth.) This post welcomes Libia Gil, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), as a co-author, with Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary of OCTAE.

OCTAE and OELA have teamed up to learn more about the demographic characteristics, educational attainment, and employment status of older adolescent and young adult English learners (ELs), ages 14 – 21. Many of these learners are unable to complete high school within the traditional time frame and may enroll in adult education programs to earn a high school credential, improve their English language skills, and acquire job skills.

This Executive Summary and Infographic, Older Adolescent and Young Adult English Learners: A Study of Demographics, Policies, and Programs,summarizes an extensive analysis of the relevant data from the American Community Survey (ACS) and Current Population Survey (CPS) data.

Key findings about older adolescents and young adult ELs, compared to their non-EL peers, summarized on the infographic include:

  • ELs are more likely to not complete high school, especially in the older 19-21 year old cohort with 22% of ELs vs. 6% of non-ELs without a high school credential;
  • ELs are less likely to be enrolled in formal education, especially in the older 19-21 year old cohort with 44% of ELs vs. 60% non-ELs enrolled; and
  • For those not enrolled, ELs are more likely to be employed.

Additionally, the study found that there is great diversity in this population, and ELs are more likely to come from low-income households with less educated parents.  It was also found that although ELs, particularly males, have a strong attachment to the labor force, they are less likely than non-ELs to be employed in high-wage occupations, raising concerns about their future earning potential.

The findings from this study add to our understanding of the educational, linguistic, and socioeconomic factors related to the high school completion and education and career needs of young adult ELs who have experienced interrupted formal education. This population, which is at a particularly high risk for experiencing poor socioeconomic outcomes as adults, requires our focused attention. They need to be connected to career pathways that will increase their educational and credential attainment and put them on a path toward economic stability. The Department has several initiatives underway to help schools, providers, and communities support young EL adults.

  • OCTAE has recently launched a technical assistance effort, Connecting English Learners to Career Pathways, to provide technical assistance on this issue to state adult education grantees. This project will deliver training on the new activity authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Integrated English Literacy and Civic Education (Title II, Section 243), that emphasizes career pathways and integrated language and occupational skill-building for English language learners (of all ages) who make up 44% of the total adult education population in program year 2014-2015.
  • OELA recently published the Newcomer Toolkit designed to help schools support immigrants, refugees, and their families with a successful integration process. The toolkit provides information, resources and examples of effective practices that educators can use to support newcomers in our schools and communities.

These nationally representative data allow us to better understand and identify young ELs are. More and ongoing research is needed. One key action school, district, and community leaders can take is to look at their specific EL populations and determine their strengths and weaknesses. A second action is to establish community partnerships to reconnect and inform ELs about education or training programs available to them.