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English Language Learners' Access to and Attainment in Postsecondary Education

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Abstract

Although English language learners (ELLs) are currently the fastest-growing group among the school-age population in the United States, there is surprisingly little information on their participation in postsecondary education. Using the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), a nationally representative sample of eighth graders who were followed for 12 years, we present one of the first national-level examinations of ELLs' access to and degree of attainment in postsecondary education. Our analyses show that ELLs lag far behind both English-proficient linguistic minority students and monolingual English-speaking students in college access and attainment. Only one in eight ELLs in the NELS:88 study earned a bachelor's degree, whereas one in four English-proficient linguistic minority students and one in three monolingual English speakers did. In addition, one in five ELLs was a high school dropout. Subsequent probit regressions reveal that a host of nonlinguistic factors, rather than the ELLs' linguistic background per se, contributed to ELLs' limited postsecondary education access and attainment.

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