`I LEARNED my English here" at Los Angeles City College (LACC),
says Asya Nagabedyan. "I didn't know anything."
Ms. Nagabedyan, who emigrated from Soviet Armenia five years ago,
is now studying child development and accounting at this community
college. She also works as a peer adviser to other Armenian
immigrant students - helping them choose courses and gain access to
Like Nagabedyan and the students she advises, many immigrants
coming to the United States are using community colleges as
"gateways" into the culture and economy of their new country.
The easy accessibility of such schools and their low cost make
them magnets for people working their way into the mainstream of a
new society. And the price is right, too. Until 1984, a community
college education in California was free. Tuition is now $5 per
unit, up to a $50 maximum per semester.
Between 1978 and 1988, growth in two-year college enrollments
nationwide exceeded gains at four-year colleges; two-year
enrollments rose 21 percent, while four-year enrollments increased
Increased enrollment among immigrants and minorities at two-year
colleges is a significant contributor to this growth, according to
the American Council on Education in Washington.
Like most community colleges, LACC draws the majority of its
students from within a five-mile radius of the school.
In a residential area near Hollywood, this campus - originally
home to the University of California, Los Angeles - is well-suited
for a community college.
During its 60-year life span, the college's ethnic diversity has
expanded and shifted in relation to the changing community. LACC is
the most ethnically diverse of the nine community colleges in the
city; pockets of seven different immigrant communities surround the
"It's like a small United Nations," says President Edwin Young.
Minorities make up 76 percent of the student body: 33 percent are
Hispanic, 26 percent Asian, and 17 percent black.
Kenneth Nakano, vice-president of administration at LACC, grew up
in this neighborhood and has witnessed its dramatic change.
"Twenty-five years ago the clientele (at LACC) may have been fairly
well-educated students. But since we've changed our immigration laws
and because we have had a tremendous influx (of immigrants to Los
Angeles), ... we're getting a clientele that is not the
These changes present "tremendous challeges" to educators, Mr.
"Communicating with these diverse students is a challenge in
itself," says Ned Doffoney, vice president of academic affairs. Only
35 percent of the students speak English as a native language, and
20 percent have lived in the US less than five years.
A Student Assistance Center was founded in 1988 to provide help
in the application and enrollment process. Student workers who speak
eight foreign languages help non-English-speaking students apply and
enroll in courses. Many take only English initially.
"English-as-a-Second-Language is one of our biggest programs," says
Fred Piegonski, public information officer.
Many community college students are older than the average
college student and a large percentage work. More than 40 percent of
LACC students work full-time. …