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Design of Key Federal Immigrant Integration Program May Be Hampering Adult Education Providers’ Ability to Address Civic and Social Integration Needs
Press Release
Thursday, February 17, 2022

Design of Key Federal Immigrant Integration Program May Be Hampering Adult Education Providers’ Ability to Address Civic and Social Integration Needs

WASHINGTON — State adult education systems, which receive significant funding from the U.S. government, are the primary source of many key integration services for adult immigrants—from English classes and adult literacy programs to civics courses and some workforce development activities. Although such programs have existed for decades, the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014 brought notable changes to adult education systems, including through its instituting of the Integrated English Literacy and Civics Education (IELCE) program.

Unlike the program  that preceded it (English Literacy and Civics Education), IELCE carries an increased focus on outcomes related to employment, participation in workforce training and economic integration for participants. Its implementation, which began in 2016, has led to the development of many innovative programs across the country. Yet the reach of these programs, and especially the workforce training-focused Integrated Education and Training (IET) component, has been limited by relatively low enrollment and demand as well as barriers to participation. In addition, the IET requirement attached to IELCE has placed a significant burden on adult education providers and appears to crowd out important efforts to support immigrants’ broader economic, civic and social integration.

A new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, which represents one of the first public studies of the IELCE program, examines the program’s design and challenges faced, including those related to accessibility, practicality and demand.

The study, which draws on interviews with adult education administrators and IELCE providers in eight states as well as analysis of available federal and state program data and regulations, discusses ways the federal government and states could better ensure that IELCE and adult education programs more broadly are able to meet immigrant learners’ wide array of integration needs and goals.

Among the key findings:

  • High entry requirements to participate in workforce training, such as advanced English proficiency and permanent legal status, prevent many immigrants from participating in IET, which combines adult education and workforce activities into linked courses focused on specific occupations. Some IELCE providers and state systems have developed innovative strategies to address these challenges, but these practices are not present in every state. Nationally, just 10 percent of IELCE enrollees participated in IET activities in the 2017-2019 program years.
  • Many adult education providers have found it challenging to build and maintain IELCE-IET programs due to low enrollment, the resource-intensive nature of IET activities, geographic limitations and difficulties forming partnerships with workforce training institutions.
  • IELCE’s focus on workforce training is not in demand for many workers, older adults, parents and other immigrants who seek integration services but are not interested in pursuing new career pathways or industry-specific credentials. These factors create recruitment challenges for IELCE providers, contribute to low enrollment in the IELCE’s IET activities and cast doubt on both the program’s sustainability.

“Federal and state policymakers should give serious consideration to whether IELCE, and WIOA more broadly, crowds out or limits adult education providers’ ability to address immigrants’ civic and social integration needs,” the report concludes.

"Better supporting the integration of the country's immigrant population through the adult education and workforce development systems demands an equity-sensitive approach that allows for flexible funding streams that can provide an array of programs that are inclusive of and address immigrant adults' diverse learning and integration needs."

Read the report, The Integrated English Literacy and Civics Education (IELCE) Program: Understanding Its Design and Challenges in Meeting Immigrant Learners’ Needs, here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/ielce-design-immigrant-learners.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities.