Indian Hills Community College Insight February 2020

by Kevin Pink

Information Director, Indian Hills Community College

Some of the international students enrolled at the Indian Hills Community College campuses in Ottumwa and Centerville came to IHCC with a degree of proficiency in the English language.  The majority, however, require the help they are able to receive at the English Language Learning Center at the college. Those are not the only students who take advantage of the services offered at the Center, though.  It also acts as a resource for many other non-English speaking students and community members.

Noel Gorden is the Dean of Learning Services at Indian Hills and she proudly points out that Indian Hills has the only English Language Learning Center among Iowa’s community colleges.  “Students can take classes for academic credit or classes where they are not concerned about getting credit, they just want to improve their English-speaking skill.”

The Learning Center provides a number of opportunities for students to learn the basic concepts of the English language.  Classes and tutoring are available during the morning, afternoon and evening hours for students to improve their English speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. “The Center is, in many ways, a Success Center for these English Language Learners,” Gorden says.  “They are really instrumental in helping people acclimate, not only with language, but with culture as well.”

Indian Hills has 90 international students in the current term, and they came to IHCC from 36 different countries, according to Karla McCollum, Director of International Affairs.  She says the number of countries hasn’t changed in recent years, but the college is seeing students coming from new places, like Vietnam, Syria and Qatar.  How does the English Language Learning Center benefit these students?  “In a word: retention,” says McCollum.  “As they improve and become more confident with speaking, writing and reading in English, they are more likely to succeed in the classroom, which means they are more likely to complete their associate degree with Indian Hills.”

McCollum says a fairly recent change in federal regulations allows the college to offer degree-seeking coursework along with ESL classes, a move that also helped retain students since they can start pursuing their degree while taking ESL coursework.  That lets those students finish their degree at a faster pace.

“Our students tell us frequently that taking ESL and improving their English language skills helped them perform better in the classroom and they had higher GPAs, which assisted them in getting academic scholarships at their next college or university for completion of a bachelor’s degree, McCollum adds.”

English as a Second Language (ESL) classes are taught for credit by three instructors on the Ottumwa campus and two on the campus in Centerville.  There are also community classes in Fairfield, Oskaloosa and at several sites in Ottumwa.

One of the sites where Indian Hills is involved in bringing ESL classes into the community is the local JBS facility.  Ashleigh Richmond, Program Coordinator, Adult Education & Literacy, explains that the partnership with JBS is a model for on-site education programs at some of their other plants.  “Classes are scheduled so that those who take them can attend before or after their shifts,” Richmond says.  “Students work on English language acquisition, including vocabulary and skills that make them better employees and prepare them for advancement.  JBS provides the classroom, access to computers and printers, and they pay part of the salary of the instructor, Audrey Bremer.  The company uses the program as a recruitment tool.”

In partnership with St. Mary of the Visitation Church in Ottumwa, ELL classes are offered on Sundays after Mass and one evening a week.  The class currently has 15 students and there is a waiting list.  Mauri Hernandez-Vargas, a St. Mary’s parishioner, teaches the class.

(This is a regular column, provided by Indian Hills Community College)