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English language learner engagement and retention in a community college setting

Dissertation
Author: Cate Almon
Abstract:
This multi-method study explored English Language Learner (ELL) enrollment and engagement in a community college to address a dearth of research on ELL retention in this context. Quantitative analyses were performed on four fall semester transcripts of ELLs ( N = 161) and on samples of ELLs and non-ELLs (n = 139) matching in age, enrollment status, and race/ethnicity. Quantitative analyses were also performed on The Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) instrument for another set of ELLs (N = 45) and matched samples of ELLs and non-ELLs (n = 34). Qualitative analyses of interviews with a third set of ELLs (N = 28) were also conducted. Results suggest that ELLs overall do well as implied by their high GPAs and engagement scores, yet most do not persist long enough to complete the ESL program or graduate. GPAs were well above the minimum for graduation (2.00) and significantly higher ( p < .05) than the non-ELLs. ELLs scored higher than the nation in all five benchmarks, and significantly higher than the non-ELLs in the support for learners benchmark. However, even though the majority of ELLs expressed that they wanted an associate's degree, only 43% successfully exit the ESL program and 13% graduate from the college. The graduation rate is significantly less ( p < .05) than college (23%) and nation (25%).To explain, certain groups presented higher risk. Students who began in lower levels of ESL were five times less likely to complete the ESL program (p < .05). Nontraditionally aged ELLs had lower GPAs, persisted fewer fall semesters, and graduated less than their counterparts (all significant at p < .05). Also found were risk factors to which students attribute their leaving college: lack of finances, full time work, and family obligations. Interviews revealed implicit risk factors of linguistic challenges and their ELL status at the college, both of which affected their engagement, as well as a lack of procedural knowledge for navigating US colleges that could enable their retention. Students who persist, graduate, or transfer attribute this success to seeking tutoring and investing extra effort. Implications for practice and research are given.

v TABLE OF CONTENTS

ABSTRACT ............................................................................................................... ii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ....................................................................................... iv LIST OF TABLES ..................................................................................................... x CHAPTER 1 .............................................................................................................. 1 INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................... 1 Problem Statement ..................................................................................................... 1 Introduction .............................................................................................. 1 Context of the study ................................................................................. 5 Background .............................................................................................. 8 ELL Inquiry in Community College Research .................................. 8 A Tradition of Retention Studies at Community Colleges ................ 11 Theoretical Framework ............................................................................ 12 Engagement........................................................................................ 13 CCSR ................................................................................................. 14 The Study ................................................................................................. 16 Purpose ............................................................................................... 16 Research Questions ............................................................................ 16 Delimitations and Limitations .................................................................. 19 Findings.............................................................................................. 20 Structure of the Work......................................................................... 23

vi CHAPTER 2 ..............................................................................................................24 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ........................................................................... 24 ELL Studies that Focus on Retention ...................................................... 24 Retention Studies that Focus on Engagement .......................................... 29 A Focus on Ethnic Minority Students ................................................ 30 Remedial Education and Engagement ............................................... 32 Obstacles to Engagement ................................................................... 35 CHAPTER 3 ..............................................................................................................38 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK ............................................................................. 38 Tinto ......................................................................................................... 38 Astin ......................................................................................................... 41 CCSSE’s Benchmarks ............................................................................. 44 CHAPTER 4 ..............................................................................................................47 METHODS ................................................................................................................ 47 Research Approach and Design ............................................................... 47 Methods for Retention Phase ............................................................. 48 Participants ......................................................................................... 49 Limitations ............................................................................. 52 Procedure .............................................................................. 53 Variables ................................................................................ 53 Data Analyses ........................................................................ 54 Methods for CCSR Survey Phase ..................................................... 58 Participants ............................................................................. 59

vii Instrument: About the CCSR Survey .................................... 65 Data Analyses ........................................................................ 67 Methods for Interview Phase ............................................................. 68 Participants ............................................................................. 68 Limitations ............................................................................. 72 Instrument .............................................................................. 73 Interview Analysis ................................................................. 74 CHAPTER 5 ..............................................................................................................77 RESULTS AND DISCUSSION FOR RETENTION DATA .................................... 77 Results for ELLs ..................................................................................................... 78 Comparing Graduates and Nongraduates ...................................................... 81 Discussion of ELL Findings .......................................................................... 82 Results among ELL Groups by Characteristic ........................................................ 85 Descriptive Comparisons ............................................................................... 85 Significant Findings ....................................................................................... 88 GPA and Enrollment ...................................................................................... 89 Program Completion and Graduation ............................................................ 90 Discussion of ELLs by Characteristic............................................................ 92 Results between ELLs and Non-ELLs .................................................................... 93 Discussion of ELL and Non-ELL Comparisons ............................................ 95 General Discussion .................................................................................................... 96 CHAPTER 6 ..............................................................................................................99 RESULTS AND DISCUSSION FOR SURVEY DATA .......................................... 99

viii

Results for ELL Retention-related Items ................................................................ 100 GPA................................................................................................................ 100 Goals vs. Plans ...............................................................................................101 Obstacles and Risk Factors ............................................................................102 Discussion of Retention Related Results .......................................................103 Results for ELL Benchmark Results.......................................................................105 Support for Learners ......................................................................................106 Active and Collaborative Learning ................................................................107 Student Effort .................................................................................................108 Academic Challenge ......................................................................................109 Student Faculty Interaction ............................................................................110 Age Group Comparisons of Benchmarks ......................................................111 Discussion of ELL Engagement Results........................................................111 Results Comparing ELLs and Non-ELLs ...............................................................114 Discussion of ELL and Non-ELL Comparison Results .................................116 General Discussion ........................................................................................118 CHAPTER 7 ..............................................................................................................122 RESULTS AND DISCUSSION FOR INTERVIEW DATA ....................................122 Causes for Leaving .........................................................................................124 Finances, Work, and Family: Reasons to Leave or Challenges to Overcome .............................................................................................128 Finances ......................................................................................................128 Work ...........................................................................................................131

ix Family .........................................................................................................135 Concluding Remarks on Dominating Factors ................................................138 Engagement....................................................................................................138 Active and Collaborative Learning .............................................................139 Student Faculty Interaction .........................................................................143 Academic Challenge ...................................................................................144 ESL ........................................................................................144 Remedial Courses ..................................................................146 Content ...................................................................................149 Support for Learners ...................................................................................153 Student Effort ..............................................................................................155 Concluding Remarks on Engagement ............................................................162 Discussion of Interview Results.....................................................................163 CHAPTER 8 ..............................................................................................................166 CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS .................................................................166 What did we Find? .........................................................................................167 Implications....................................................................................................174 ESL Program ..................................................................................................174 College ...........................................................................................................176 Suggestions for Future Research ...................................................................180 Conclusion .....................................................................................................183 REFERENCES ..........................................................................................................184 APPENDICES ...........................................................................................................194

x LIST OF TABLES 3.1 Outline of CCSSE’s Benchmarks ...................................................51 4.1. Characteristics of ELLs (n = 161) and Non-ELLs (n = 6968) ...................................................................................50 4.2. Characteristics of Matching Samples..............................................51 4.3. Chi-Square Results for ELL Characteristics between 2006 and 2007 .................................................................................61 4.4. Characteristics of ELLs (n = 45) .....................................................63 4.5. Characteristics of Non-ELLs (n = 1011) ........................................64 4.6. Characteristics in Matching Samples ..............................................65 4.7. Reliability of Benchmark Related Items for ELL Responses ........67 4.8. Interview Participants .....................................................................70 5.1. Descriptive Statistics for ELLs as a Group .....................................79 5.2. ELL Persistence, Stop-out, and Dropout Rates .............................80 5.3. ELL Cumulative Graduation Rates from First Fall to Last Fall ....81 5.4. ESL Program Completers and Graduates ......................................81 5.5. Descriptive Statistics by Level When Entering ESL Program ......85 5.6. Descriptive Statistics of ELLs by Their Characteristics ................87 5.7. Demographics by Categories of Race, Residents Only (n = 118) ..................................................................................88 5.8. Descriptive Statistics on Subgroups by Age, Ethnicity, and ESL Level ............................................................................88 5.9. Linear Regression Results..............................................................90

xi 5.10. Logistic Regression Results for ESL Program Non-completion .........................................................................91 5.11. Logistic Regression Results for Non-graduation ...........................92 5.12. Results for Matching ELLs and Non-ELLs ...................................93 5.13. Results for Those Less Likely to Graduate, ELLs Compared to Non-ELLs ..............................................................................94 6.1. ELL Grade Averages Reported ......................................................101 6.2 . ELL Benchmark Scores, n = 45 ......................................................105 6.3. Benchmark 5: Support for Learners (7 items) (n = 45) ................106 6.4. Benchmark 1: Active and Collaborative Learning (7 items) (n = 45) .....................................................................107 6.5. Benchmark 2: Student Effort (8 items) (n = 45) ............................108 6.6. Benchmark 3: Academic Challenge (10 items) .............................109 6.7. Benchmark 4: Student Faculty Interaction (6) ...............................111 6.8. Non-ELL Benchmark Scores (n = 1011) .......................................114 6.9. Benchmark Scores between Matching Samples ............................114 6.10. Significant Items for ELLs Over Non-ELLs with Adjustment ................................................................................115 6.11. Significant Items between ELLs and Non-ELLs without Adjustment ...................................................................116 7.1. Interview participants with demographic characteristics ...............123 7.1. Categories of Reasons to Stop Out or Drop Out ............................125

1 CHAPTER 1

INTRODUCTION

Problem Statement

The community college is an important research site since more than half of the nation’s first-time college students begin their higher education there (Townsend, Donaldson, & Wilson, 2005; Miller, Pope, & Steinmann, 2005). The mission of community colleges is to provide access to education for an often academically under- prepared student population at more affordable tuitions (Belcher, 1988; Dowd & Melguizo, 2008). With this mission, then the retention of the students who attend them is a pertinent issue in this area of inquiry. It would be unethical to recruit students but then let them fail or drop out (Engstrom & Tinto, 2008). The first aspect of the problem that will be addressed here is that even though community colleges play a vital role in society by providing accessible and affordable education and training, they are not as visible as other institutions of higher education in research studies published in higher education journals, as documented by Townsend, Donaldson, and Wilson (2005), who conducted a content analysis on articles published between 1990 and 2003. Furthermore, whereas there is a dearth of studies focusing on community colleges, especially on topics that are essential to them and not simply used as convenient research sites, there are even fewer studies on English Language learners (ELLs), students who begin college by taking English as a Second Language (ESL) courses. ELL issues should be part of the discussion on community college retention for at least two reasons. First, community colleges tend to enroll more ELLs than four-year institutions since the community college offers programs aimed at helping new immigrants in the community

2 as well as college bound students who still need to hone their academic English levels (Kuo, 1999). ELLs also account for many first semester students who are known to be lost to attrition (Maxwell, Hagedorn, Cypers, Moon, Brocato, Wahl, & Prather, 2003). Although there are numerous studies of retention at four-year institutions of higher education, especially that illustrate the importance of student engagement (Tinto, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005), only recently have researchers started applying similar approaches to research at community colleges (Marti, 2009). The gap that still exists in community college retention literature, especially with regard to ELLs, is another side of the problem that my study will attempt to address. Second language learning research is not immune to this gap in ELL retention studies. Since SLA research has taken on more social influences of language learning (as noted by Block, 2003), there has been some attention to a broader scope of language learning such as access to linguistic resources (Pavlenko, 2000). However, there is little attention to what happens to learners after they gain initial access into an ELL program. One research report that did look at ESL community college retention, conducted two decades ago, showed stark figures in persistence (Belcher, 1988). Not only were ELLs less likely to graduate than students who had not started in ESL, a mere 16% finished the ESL program with a grade point average (GPA) of 2.00 or higher. However, causes behind these findings were not explored. Since then, there have been a scattering of studies that address ELL retention in community colleges, but that provide only pieces of the whole retention picture. In the following introduction, I will discuss the significance of this study by showing how it will add to the previous work on retention in community colleges, and by illustrating another way to broaden the scope of ELL inquiry.

3 Using multiple data sets, I used a mixed method approach to the study of ELL student engagement and ELL student retention in East Penn Community College (EPCC, a pseudonym). The terminology used throughout this study is explained as follows. ESL is often the term given to community college programs that teach English language learners and will thus be used interchangeably with ELL. Engagement here will be defined in terms of student involvement in activities that have been associated with higher retention rates and GPAs in college. These activities include putting effort into their studies, feeling challenged by coursework, seeking support, and interacting with peers, faculty and staff. The term involvement had been used for this concept by theorists in retention literature (Marti, 2009), but engagement is the term adopted by the organization, Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) which provided the survey used in the present study, the Community College Student Report (CCSR), and thus will be the term of choice when discussing the concept. Engagement will be operationalized here by the activities of students and other individuals at the college (faculty, staff, and peers) categorized in five CCSSE benchmarks: active and collaborative learning, student effort, academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, and support for learners (CCSSE, 2003c). It is argued that the positive outcomes of this engagement include persistence in college enrollment from semester to semester, higher graduation rates, and higher GPAs. Retention is an umbrella term that is used broadly to refer to the body of literature that looks at students remaining in college and not lost to attrition. Persistence will be used to mean continuing in college from one semester to the following semester.

4 The study occurred in three phases using a different set of data for each phase. In the first phase, using quantitative measures, I examined overall enrollment trends of first- time freshmen (FF) ELLs who began at the college in the fall semesters 2001-2004. First I looked at ELL students by level to see whether there were differences in number of semesters persisted, ESL program completion, graduation rates, and GPAs between ELLs who began in the higher versus the lower levels. I also looked for patterns in demographic data. I then compared the persistence, graduation rates (i.e. completing an associate’s degree, certificate, or specialized diploma), and GPAs of students who began their first semester in the ESL Program to the rates of FF at EPCC as a whole. The second phase of the study explored student engagement of a different set of ELL participants at the same college. I examined the self-reported engagement practices of ELL responses to the items and then compared them with non-ELL responses by analyzing results of the standard survey instrument, the CCSR, of students enrolled and surveyed in 2006 and 2007. Finally, a qualitative approach was taken aiming to link the first two phases. Interviews were conducted with a different sample of students, except for four students from the retention data, who either dropped out before, persisted through, or transferred out of two thresholds: completion of the ESL program in 2008 and graduation at the college over the course of a five-year period. Participants were asked to explain in their own terms their experience of what influenced them to either remain in college or not. The purpose of this design was to explore the retention and engagement of ELLs by comparing ELLs and non-ELLs in their academic journeys and potential causes reflected in the CCSR survey instrument, both through quantitative measures, and then to

5 get a deeper look at ELL students’ voices at possible reasons for individuals’ decisions about persisting in college through interview analysis. The comparisons between ELLs and non-ELLs are not made to use non-ELLs as the ideal model, especially since in some cases ELLs outperformed non-ELLs. Rather, comparisons shed light on associations between engagement and retention; even though they are different groups of data (for retention and engagement) the student demographics at the college and the ESL program have been fairly consistent over the years, so if one group has consistently stronger retention and higher engagement throughout the data, it is possible that there is a link between them, a link that will be explored more directly in the interviews with individual cases. The implications of these results can assist advisors, instructors, and administrators to look for early warning signs of attrition and develop ways to intervene and help students continue learning advanced English or obtain a college degree, either of which increases the chances for their other potential goals such as gainful employment (Ignash, 1995). Context of the Study The study took place at EPCC which has both noncredit free ESL courses as well as a four-level credit ESL program. The credit program will be the research site in this study since its purpose is to prepare students mostly for credit academic programs. The students in a given semester represent 35 countries of origin and about 28 languages, although Spanish is spoken by about 40% of the students. About 20% of the students come with international student visas, and the rest are recent immigrants or immigrants who spent a portion of their K-12 education in North America, often called generation 1.5 (Harklau, 2000). Ages have ranged from 17 to 65 years.

6 For the most part, students self-select into the ESL program. EPCC is considered an open enrollment college, meaning their admissions process is not selective, except for a few programs such as nursing program. This also means that student may stop out by taking time off and reenrolling again at a later time. However, the college requires students to take placement tests for math, English, and ESL. There is no policy that requires ELLs to take ESL rather than remedial courses (which are explained below) if they do not pass the college English placement test (EPT) for native speakers and place into the mainstream college writing course, “English I.” However, if a student scores very low on the EPT and answered that their first language (L1) is not English, the advising staff may ask them if they know about and may be interested in ESL. Remedial instructors also look for students who may benefit more from ESL and make referrals. In a few cases ELLs take remedial reading or writing courses after they complete the ESL program since they still have to pass the EPT at the end of the final level of ESL. Conversely, students are not required to complete the ESL program and may test out of ESL at any time by taking and passing the EPT. At the time of the study, there were three remedial English courses: Basic English, a pre-college writing course, and Reading Fundamentals and Critical Reading, which are two levels of courses that focus on instructing reading comprehension. Most ELLs pass the EPT after finishing ESL, but the ones who do not pass usually take either Critical Reading or Basic English. Any student who passes the remedial courses can then enroll in English I without having to take the EPT again. In addition to the remedial reading and writing courses at the college, there are three remedial math courses that any student could test and place into before taking a college level math course.

7 Students enrolling in the ESL program are given an ESL placement test for the administrator to determine the appropriate level of ESL the student would take. The test includes a listening, reading, and grammar section on the computer, in addition to a writing sample on paper. Students do not need to take a test to attend the beginning level, ESL I, but this course is taught with the assumption that the student has L1 literacy. This first level is a six-credit course that meets for seven and a half hours per week for fifteen weeks and combines traditional skill areas of reading, writing/grammar, speaking and listening. Levels II and III are separated into skill focus areas and contain three three- credit courses that all meet for about four hours per week for fifteen weeks: ESL Speaking II and III, ESL Reading II and III, and ESL Writing II and III, the latter of which also have a heavy grammar focus. The most advanced level is one three-credit course called ESL Level IV which combines the skill areas of reading, writing, grammar, and discussion. ELLs are encouraged to take only ESL courses if they place into levels I or II, and may combine some college level courses from their majors when placed into levels III and IV. The academic advisor tends to assist in advising until ELLs are more advanced in their majors whereby they would have a major advisor. Tutoring is another service for all students at the college for ESL and college level courses. Tutors are hired and trained by the college to assist students one-on-one with coursework for up to one hour per week. ESL tutors work with students in a center in the ESL department, and content tutors work in the “Learning Center.” Tutors are required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, unless they are peer tutors who simply need to have passed the course they tutor with a high grade.

8 Students may go on to seek an associate’s degree, certificate, or specialized diploma at the college. The degrees can be an associate in arts or science, intended for transfer, or associate in Applied Science, intended for immediate employment upon completion as are the certificates and specialized diplomas. Only nineteen out of the ninety-six programs of study are transferrable. The ESL Program is part of a community college that serves approximately 10,000 students each semester. Although they are classified with CCSSE as “urban,” the population is predominantly White (80%) and the county they serve has a population of about 300,000, 92% of whom are White (“U.S. Census Bureau” 2010). Therefore, ELLs of color and even White ELLs with accents may be perceived as different from the majority at the college. Instructors at the college tend to teach five courses in two fifteen- week semesters. We now turn to an overview of the research in community college settings as relevant to the present study. Background

ELL Inquiry in Community College Research

As mentioned above, research needs to address ELL student retention issues in a community college setting since it is often here that is these learners’ initial point of entry into higher education (Kuo, 1999). Belcher (1988) published the seemingly first research report on ELLs in a community college which she conducted as a response to the growth in ELL enrollment by 10% in ten years at her college. Following that report, ELL issues received some attention in the 1990’s but more in terms of overviews of ESL programs rather than research on their retention (Ignash, 1995, Kuo 1999). The report and overview documents were not based in a retention theory and thus did not attempt to answer why

9 the retention was low. Conversely, studies in retention literature have stronger theoretical underpinnings, but do not focus on ELLs except to say there is a need to build on this inquiry (Miller, Pope, & Steinmann, 2005; Maxwell, et al., 2003). Retention studies will be further explored in the next section. Overall, in the literature that focuses on ELLs in community colleges, we see that learners may face multiple challenges. As a group they are quite diverse where some include certain variables in demographics and student behaviors that are associated with high dropout rates according to the retention literature below and some do not. There exist potential challenges more specific to ELLs, however, such as the stress of living far from home for international students (Chen 1999), the need for more “personal-emotional social adjustment” to college (Estrada, Dupoux, & Wolman 2005), and the language issues involved (Kuo, 1999). Even the ways ELLs are represented in college versus high school, or taught with content that serves students with particular characteristics in a diverse classroom may act as factors impeding their willingness to persist (Harklau, 2000). For example, Harklau (2000) observed that teacher’s views of students had consequences on students’ attitudes and behaviors. Those who had gone to high schools in the U.S. were often bored with a curriculum that treated all ELLs as newcomers and drew on home country experiences or learning about U.S. cultural topics. A couple of recent studies looked directly at attrition from advanced academic ESL courses within a semester (Song 2006b; Curry 2001). Song (2006b) interviewed students and the instructor of an academic reading/writing ESL course that a number of students failed and noted a need for more dialog between students and their instructor. Curry (2001) found that the students who were the first to leave the academic writing

10 course did not have the same economic and social capital as the ones who stayed. For instance, students who had more experience with higher education in their backgrounds outlasted the other students in the class. Having students with little academic experience studying juxtaposed to those with more academic experience is a challenge in community colleges across the board (McJunkin, 2005). However, some would say this is particularly applicable to ESL classrooms that have international students and recent immigrants from lower SES backgrounds (Peterman, 2003). Even these two groups can include a great deal of diversity which Peterman (2003) also notes. Studies have also observed the benefits of ELLs who go through an academic ESL course as opposed to not going through an ESL course. Song (2006a) and Goldschmidt, Notzold, and Miller (2003) both tracked ELL students who took an ESL content course or took an ESL academic preparation course, respectively, and compared them to ELLs who did not take these courses and found that students who had the ESL instruction performed better than those who did not. Overall, there is a gap in the literature that tracks students from the beginning of ESL to graduation or that compares their retention to the rest of the college students. But there is an underlying commonality to these studies. Song’s (2000b) call for more teacher-student interaction and Harklau’s (2000) bored students point to engagement theory. Students in these studies are less involved in their learning due to a number of factors. This will be explored further in the theoretical section. The methods involved for these studies show a divide between quantitative measures of transcript analysis and test scores (Belcher, 1988) or uses of questionnaires (Estrada, Dupoux, & Wolman, 2005), and qualitative measures such as ethnographic data

11 collection of classroom observation and student and teacher interviews (Curry 2001; Harklau 2000; Song 2006b). We will see more of a variety of data collection techniques in the retention literature that will provide a better model in this line of inquiry. A Tradition of Retention Studies at Community Colleges

Attention to student retention in higher education began in four-year universities (Tinto, 1987; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991) but have since turned focus to community colleges (Tinto, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Key issues in early retention literature in community colleges included retention on college students as a whole rather than on special groups (Lewis & Middleton, 2003; Lujan, Gallegos, and Harbour 2003). Then the focus started narrowing in on student populations with achievement gaps such as remedial students (Kolajo, 2004; Perin, 2004), first generation college students, students of low socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds (Alford, 2000; Dowd & Melguizo, 2008), gender, age (Crawford Sorey & Harris Duggan, 2008), and students of various ethnic backgrounds such as African American (Alford, 2000), Hispanic (Hagedorn & Lester, 2006; Hagedorn, Chi, Cepeda, & McLain 2007; Santos, 2005), and Asian (Chang, 2005). Since ELLs share some of these characteristics, a few authors mention the need to explore ESL issues further (Miller, Pope, & Steinmann, 2005; Maxwell, et al., 2003). More recently, community college researchers have started framing studies in engagement theories which originated in four-year institutions. For example, the creators of the CCSR survey instrument are making a relatively new national initiative dedicated to looking at engagement of different groups. A recent dissertation study used CCSR data to look at the differing engagement practices between remedial and non-remedial students (Noel, 2006). However, ELLs are still not part of the conversation in any of the

12 articles on CCSR data even though there is a question on the survey that asks whether students have taken or plan to take an ESL course. The present study will be situated in Astin’s (1985) engagement theory and will use the CCSR to see if the theory can account for ESL student retention. Research methodologies have also been varied in the retention literature. Lujan, Gallegos, and Harbour (2003) noted that early studies started with large scale statistical approaches to look for overall trends. But in their overview of seven studies, the authors asserted that barriers which impede Latino retention at two-year institutions are best investigated using qualitative approaches. Studies have also been using mixed methods successfully. Noel (2006), for instance, used the CCSR survey instrument and conducted focus groups to add more substance and depth to her questions. Tovar and Simon (2006) used surveys for students on academic probation and observed counseling sessions to see how students respond to intrusive interventions. Some researchers who used only quantitative approaches mention that mixed approaches would have benefited their studies. Miller, Pope and Steinmann (2005) lament not using some qualitative ways to get definitions of success from students to help interpret the survey results they reported. Estrada, Dupoux, and Wolman (2005) also make a call for a qualitative approach to make sense of their survey study. Theoretical Framework

Full document contains 219 pages
Abstract: This multi-method study explored English Language Learner (ELL) enrollment and engagement in a community college to address a dearth of research on ELL retention in this context. Quantitative analyses were performed on four fall semester transcripts of ELLs ( N = 161) and on samples of ELLs and non-ELLs (n = 139) matching in age, enrollment status, and race/ethnicity. Quantitative analyses were also performed on The Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) instrument for another set of ELLs (N = 45) and matched samples of ELLs and non-ELLs (n = 34). Qualitative analyses of interviews with a third set of ELLs (N = 28) were also conducted. Results suggest that ELLs overall do well as implied by their high GPAs and engagement scores, yet most do not persist long enough to complete the ESL program or graduate. GPAs were well above the minimum for graduation (2.00) and significantly higher ( p < .05) than the non-ELLs. ELLs scored higher than the nation in all five benchmarks, and significantly higher than the non-ELLs in the support for learners benchmark. However, even though the majority of ELLs expressed that they wanted an associate's degree, only 43% successfully exit the ESL program and 13% graduate from the college. The graduation rate is significantly less ( p < .05) than college (23%) and nation (25%).To explain, certain groups presented higher risk. Students who began in lower levels of ESL were five times less likely to complete the ESL program (p < .05). Nontraditionally aged ELLs had lower GPAs, persisted fewer fall semesters, and graduated less than their counterparts (all significant at p < .05). Also found were risk factors to which students attribute their leaving college: lack of finances, full time work, and family obligations. Interviews revealed implicit risk factors of linguistic challenges and their ELL status at the college, both of which affected their engagement, as well as a lack of procedural knowledge for navigating US colleges that could enable their retention. Students who persist, graduate, or transfer attribute this success to seeking tutoring and investing extra effort. Implications for practice and research are given.