Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Community Colleges in Illinois' New Growth Latino Communities

Infrastructures for Spanish-speakers in new growth communities are a lot like this road.
by Ann Abbott

During the next few years, I will be working with the University of Illinois' Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) on a project that they included in their grant renewal proposal and that apparently was well received by the reviewers: helping community colleges to implement Spanish community service learning.

This semester, Dara Goldman, the Director of CLACS, and I began talking and brainstorming. 

This could be, I told her, an opportunity to build a model of capacity-building, linguistic understanding and transcultural competence in new growth Latino communities.

But it's not going to be easy...

What is a new growth community? 

The executive summary of a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation explains it in this way: This report examines coverage and access to care for Hispanics living in “new growth”
communities (those with a small but rapidly growing Hispanic population) and those living in
“major Hispanic centers” (areas that traditionally have had a large Hispanic population). 

A recent Focal Point project at the University of Illinois, Responding to Immigrants, stated this on their website: Migration scholars submit that the settlement of Latino immigrants into new regions, cities, and small towns across the United States is “the most significant trend in U.S. population redistribution over the past quarter century."  (Their website also has a list of readings.)

Champaign-Urbana, Illinois is a new growth community. I haven't necessarily been framing my work with local Latino community in that way, but from now on I will. I'll do that in the following ways:

  • I will teach my CSL students about new growth communities and ask them to reflect on how they see the characteristics played out in their experiences in the community.
  • I plan to propose a set of courses--some existing but that don't count for the major, some new or newly named--with the ultimate goal of creating Spanish majors who are equipped to be bilingual professionals with the translingual and transcultural skills to be effective in community and professional settings in new-growth communities. Maybe this proposal will be a new program of study, and maybe it will just be a different "pathway" with courses for students to choose among. We'll see. But the end goal is substantively different than that of the current Spanish major.
  • I'll start integrating this viewpoint into my research and writing.
  • What took me so long?

What is the connection between Illinois community colleges and new growth communities?

After talking to Dara about the service learning project and its parameters, I began to do some online research using these two website.
  1. Illinois Community College Board, for a list of a Illinois' community colleges. I hoped to find a community college within fairly easy driving distance with which to partner. I was also particularly interested in the areas that I am familiar with from growing up in Clay City, Illinois. So Effingham, Olney and a few other community colleges were top on my mind.
  2. Illinois QuickFacts from the US Census. I wanted to try to match new growth communities (cities and counties) with downstate Illinois community colleges.
Here are a few things I found.
  • I had a hunch that Effingham, Illinois was a new growth community. Indeed, the census data showed 1.8% Latino population in Effingham County contrasted with 3.2% in the town of Effingham. Unfortunately, though, there is no community college in Effingham or near enough to make it easy for Spanish students at the community college to do CSL work in Effingham.
  • There is a community college in Mattoon, Illinois. In Coles County, 2.3% of the population is Latino, but in Mattoon itself, only 1.8% are Latino.
  • Observation. If we compare/contrast these two cases, where there is a community college there is not a local new growth community, and vice versa.
  • I decided to look at the community colleges and census data in the areas nearest to my hometown.
  • First of all, the community colleges in that region work in concert (IL Eastern Community Colleges) to share programs across the sparsely populated area. They don't duplicate many programs, so, as a hypothetical example, if you want to study mechanics you have to go to one of the four community colleges, not necessarily the one closest to where you live.
  • Robinson, Illinois has a 3.6% Latino population--a real surprise to me! More than Effingham, which is, I believe, I larger town.
  • However, when I looked at the website for the local community college (Lincoln Trail College), I could find no information about Spanish. I called the office that coordinates the four community colleges, and indeed, they offer no Spanish classes there. At Olney, which is relatively nearby, they offer only one Spanish course.
  • Observation. In rural areas with relatively high new growth Latino populations, even if there is a local community college, they might not offer language classes.
  • Moving closer to home, I looked at Vermillion County, one county east of Champaign. There was a big surprise here: Danville, by far the largest town in the county, had a 2.2% Latino population but 4.7% in the county. This makes me suspect that there are factory and/or agricultural jobs in the even smaller towns in the county that are in part filled by Latino workers, but I don't know for sure. 
  • Danville has a community college, but I knew from speaking with Dara that their Spanish program--while it does at least exist--has an adjunct faculty that might hinder the establishment of a strong partnership, not because of any problems with the faculty members but because of the nature of adjunct positions.
  • Observation. The "adjunctification" of university and college faculty at all kinds of institutions has many negative consequences, only one of which would be the increased difficulty in partnering to create innovative and sustainable programs.
  • Finally, I turned to Champaign County, where we have both the University of Illinois and Parkland Community College. Parkland has a very strong Spanish program with several tenured faculty as well as adjunct faculty and a good variety of Spanish courses. I know their tenured faculty, and they are excellent professionals.
  • Looking at Champaign County, one thing immediately calls your attention: while Champaign has a 6.3% Latino population, Rantoul's is even higher--9.7%. And while Rantoul is just sixteen miles away, there are very few services for the Latinos who live there.
  • Observation/Question. If we partner with Parkland--located in Champaign--can we build a Spanish community service learning program that does what we at the University of Illinois have not been able to do: serve the needs of Rantoul?


One of the main challenges in new growth communities is the lack of infrastructures to serve the needs of these new community members and in linguistically and culturally appropriate ways. (I have a chapter in a book that addresses this issue: Creating Infrastructures for Latino Mental Health.) What is apparent to me after barely scratching the surface on this project is that community colleges are an important part of those infrastructures, especially in rural areas, but that they don't always meet those needs either. And maybe they don't/can't meet the needs of the non-immigrant community either. 

When we talk about "infrastructure" in this country, most people immediately think about our crumbling roads, aging bridges, slow trains, etc. However, we need to broaden that discussion to educational and human services infrastructures so that they can meet the needs of all our communities, immigrant or not.

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