“¿En que les podemos ayudar?”: Addressing the Non-Credit Needs of a Growing Spanish-speaking Student Body at California’s Community Colleges

Noncredit, Pre-Transfer, & Continuing Education Committee Chair
Noncredit, Pre-Transfer, & Continuing Education Committee
Noncredit, Pre-Transfer, & Continuing Education Committee

California’s community colleges have seen a marked and steady increase in students who identify as Latinx as well as students who are bilingual or for whom Spanish is their first language. While this change is certainly evident on college campuses, data from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office clearly shows the steady increase that started in 2006. The change is a reflection of a similar increase in Spanish-speakers and Latinx in the California workforce and in the number of Latinx entrepreneurs establishing their own businesses. This situation raises important questions regarding how California’s community colleges are adapting to and addressing the needs of this population.

While the Chancellor’s Office does not disaggregate student data based on language, information such as Latinx student enrollment, ESL enrollment, and other relevant data can help to reveal the growth in a Spanish-speaking student population. Data shows a steady increase in Latinx students overall. According to the Chancellor’s Office DataMart, Latinx student enrollment in community colleges has increased from 33.65% of the total student population in 2010 to 45.21% in 2018, an increase of over 200,000 Latinx students in less than ten years. This data alone may not give an accurate representation of the number of students who speak Spanish, since not all Latinx students speak Spanish; however, the picture becomes clearer when this information is analyzed alongside other data. According to Datamart, 22% of non-credit enrollment is for ESL courses, making it the second most enrolled category after elementary and basic skills. Also, the fact that over 25,000 Latinx community college students hold either permanent or temporary residency status shows that the student body is not only becoming more Latinx but more Spanish-speaking as well. In addition, a recent report from the National Immigration Forum pointed out that the “retail sector; adjacent sectors such as manufacturing, transportation and warehousing; and accommodation and food service employ more than 6 million LEP (Limited English Proficient) workers, or approximately 43% of all LEP workers.” (Murray & Negoescu, 2019).

In 2015, Los Angeles Trade Tech College (LATTC), in collaboration with the National Day Laborers Network, offered its first class in Spanish in the construction trade to a small group of immigrants (Marrero, 2016). Thereafter, in Winter 2017, Avanza Los Angeles (ALAS) was founded as an initiative of LATTC to offer noncredit classes in Spanish. As a result of the first construction cohort, LATTC is one of the leading community colleges in Los Angeles to offer noncredit introductory classes in automotive, sewing, construction, electrical, and computer literacy in Spanish to about 200 to 300 Spanish-speaking students each semester. The Spanish courses are coupled with ESL courses that can help students transition to English credit pathways and improve basic skills. The Spanish-speaking program has helped monolingual students petition for noncredit certificates in lube technician, sewing operator, and English as a second language and started to recognize them in 2019 at an end of the year celebration. More recently, a second cohort in Summer 2021 was established utilizing virtual learning. The ALAS 2021 Virtual Ceremony demonstrated that this population can also benefit from the Spanish noncredit programs online despite Covid-19 ramifications.

The Cerritos College Adult Education and Diversity (AED) programs have also managed a sequence of Spanish-speaking courses leading to noncredit certificate attainment. Cerritos College does not mandate a noncredit student to take an ESL class concurrent with the Spanish course but does provide vocational English as a second language classes as support. Some of Cerritos’ most popular courses are language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics classes that are offered in Spanish and allow students to obtain a high school equivalency certificate. One of the innovative strategies that Cerritos College used in its last noncredit approved courses was to add an S to the course outline of record to indicate that the class is taught in Spanish. AED piloted this strategy in Fall 2021 with its new entrepreneurship-small business courses. Small business students are benefiting from these classes by applying the free knowledge and resources provided in the Spanish courses to their businesses. The classes are run in collaboration with theSmall Business Development Center and SCORE, a federally funded organization that provides professional workshops and has helped Spanish-speaking students to further gain confidence in the small business world. In addition, Cerritos College, in collaboration with the General Mexico Consulate in Los Angeles, introduced a free Spanish OSHA-10 certificate focused on basic safety and health information for entry-level workers in construction and general industry.

Student testimonies present the benefits of these noncredit certificates, and some students have even transitioned to pursuing a credit level certificate. For example, Carlos Flores, a student in the construction, maintenance, and utilities electrician pathway, stated, “The ALAS program was where I was introduced to the world of electricity. It motivated me so I decided to take the full credit courses right there in the college to go for a license or certificate as an electrician.” Miriam Vazquez, another ALAS student who is working on her culinary arts certificate, said, “Someone mentioned a program called ALAS where I would not only take English as a Second Language classes but also a Spanish-speaking program. Now I am taking credit classes to become a chef. I am halfway there, which would not have been possible without the ALAS program” (Morales, Mercado, Muñoz, 2019). Similarly for Cerritos College AED, Maria Ramirez explained how the entrepreneurship classes and credential have empowered her business, DMR Property Services. “The OSHA-10 credential was very important, due to the intense work in construction for me and my associates.” Likewise, Agripina Salgado has been inspired to learn how to navigate the CANVAS learning management system by taking a noncredit Spanish course in-person. She stated, “I did not know how to use the computer and since we were online it was very hard. But thanks to this Spanish CANVAS class at Cerritos College, I am learning the basics and I now feel more confident.”

These programs also open career advancement opportunities for LEP individuals. Data from the Migration Policy Institute shows that "more than 1.3 million college-educated immigrants are unemployed or working in unskilled jobs such as dishwashers, security guards, and taxi drivers—representing one of every five highly skilled immigrants in the US labor force. Their work in these jobs constitutes a serious waste of human capital — one that can be addressed by both immigrant admission and immigrant integration policies" (Batalova, & Fix, 2008). According to the Brookings Institution, "working-age LEP adults earn 25 to 40 percent less than their English proficient counterparts” and “access to acquiring these skills is persistently limited by a lack of resources and attention. Increasing investment in adult English instruction—through more funding, targeted outreach, and instructional innovations—would enhance the human capital of immigrants that could lead to more productive work and better outcomes for their children" (Wilson, 2014).

The work being done at colleges such as LATTC and Cerritos College reflects the positive impact of focusing on and engaging Spanish-speaking students and can serve to influence the establishment of similar programs at other community colleges. Research has already pointed to the benefits that such a focus could have on equity efforts, and courses that focus on LEP students will lead to more positive outcomes not just for LEP individuals but also for the state and national economies as a whole. As colleges continue to focus on increasing student success rates and closing racial and ethnic equity gaps, programs such as ALAS and Cerritos AED show that language is an important element in those efforts.


Batalova, J., & Fix, M. (2008). Uneven Progress The Employment Pathways of Skilled Immigrants in the United States. Migration Policy Institute. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/publications/BrainWasteOct08.pdf.

Marrero, Pilar. (2016, December 28). Trade Tech College en Los Ángeles abre brecha con clases en español para varias carreras. La Opinión. https://laopinion.com/2016/12/28/trade-tech-college-en-los-angeles-abre-brecha-con-clases-en-espanol-para-varias-carreras/?fbclid=IwAR2DuoKtUflnwtpc6z5kyqOSPZWwXoQJYtKIKBG0YtA0QXx_E62Fs3bycT8.

Morales, L., Mercado, Y, & Muñoz, S. (2019). Una visión semestral de Avanza L.A. Los Angeles Trade Technical College.  https://www.lattc.edu/getattachment/Services/Academic/Academic-Connections/ALAS/ALAS-Newsletter/ALAS-Newsletter-PDF.pdf?lang=en-US.

Murray, J, & Negoescu, A. (2019). Upskilling New Americans: Innovative English Training for Career Advancement. National Immigration Forum. https://immigrationforum.org/article/upskilling-new-americans-innovative-english-training-for-career-advancement/.

Wilson, J. (2014). Investing in English Skills: The Limited English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas. Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/research/investing-in-english-skills-the-limi….