Upwardly Global Unveils Report Tracking How Community Colleges Engage Immigrant Students

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Immigrant students make up nearly one-third of the student population in community colleges

Upwardly Global, the national nonprofit working to support immigrants and refugees with international credentials to restart their careers in the United States, released a new report titled “Unlocking Potential: Enhancing Community College Services for Immigrant and Refugee Students.”

The study highlights best practices as well as critical gaps in career services offerings for immigrant student populations, along with tested resources and strategies that can dismantle employment barriers for these students. It was informed by key stakeholder interviews and in-depth focus groups with community college practitioners across California and Texas, as well as national survey data from more than 80 college practitioners. 

Key takeaways from the report include:

    • While nearly one-third of community college students are of immigrant origin, these institutions face substantial hurdles in supporting this population at all skill levels, with limited research on effective programs and interventions that bridge disparities.
    • As the U.S. faces critical labor shortages, it is more important than ever to address these barriers and unlock the untapped potential of immigrant professionals. With 8.8 million current job openings in the U.S., there are only 6.4 million unemployed workers available to fill those jobs, leaving critical gaps in the labor market.
    • Nearly 80% of respondents said their community college needs to improve their capacity in meeting the specific needs of immigrant and refugee students.
    • Career services at many community colleges do not tailor to immigrant students’ unique needs. Only 10% of community colleges surveyed are currently meeting the need to support re-credentialing and career reentry for immigrant students. As many as 30% have no programs to support re-credentialing and career reentry.


Upwardly Global conducted this research between May and August 2023 with funding support from Lumina Foundation and research partners at the National Council for Workforce Education. 

According to the report, “Community colleges are well-positioned to help immigrants obtain an affordable postsecondary education, learn English language skills, and prepare for the labor market.” However, gaps and barriers persist in the programs that prepare immigrants and refugees for the U.S. workforce, from a lack of differentiated services for immigrant-origin students to the need for employer partnerships and staff training. 

“To address these gaps, a collaborative ecosystem approach involving community colleges, workforce agencies, and community-based organizations is key. Investments in both resources and capacity building are also critical, along with a concerted commitment to understanding and addressing the unique needs of the immigrant and refugee community,” the report reads.

“For the U.S. to meaningfully advance the inclusion of immigrant, refugee, and asylee professionals and their skills, and help them build stable futures in the communities they now call home, we must continue to invest resources and build capacity in the community college ecosystem.”

Upwardly Global has worked at the intersection of immigrant inclusion and workforce development for over two decades, supporting immigrant, refugee, and asylee professionals in rebuilding their lives and careers in the U.S. and unlocking their vital contributions to our workforce and economy. To date, they have supported nearly 10,000 newcomers transitioning from underemployment into quality jobs with an average starting salary of $65,000. Their efforts have added more than $50 million to local economies each year. 

“In an era where immigrant-driven growth shapes the U.S. workforce, Upwardly Global continues to champion the inclusion of immigrant workers into professional jobs, an issue much larger than our organization can tackle itself. This report underscores the critical need to invest in the community college system, which acts as a vital and accessible pathway to workforce inclusion for immigrant communities, offering insights that dismantle barriers and unlock untapped potential,” says Jina Krause-Vilmar, Upwardly Global President and CEO.


About Upwardly Global

Upwardly Global’s mission is to eliminate employment barriers for low-income immigrant and refugee professionals and to advance their inclusion into the U.S. economy. Since 2000, Upwardly Global has empowered unemployed or underemployed newcomers with the skills, career coaching, and social capital needed to rebuild their lives and careers. Learn more at UpwardlyGlobal.org.

For media inquiries, please contact media@upwardlyglobal.org.

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