Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Hello, college: A role model

Shawekar Hossein dreams about becoming a lawyer someday. But until earlier this month, the high school junior had never even visited a college campus.

Shawekar Hossein dreams about becoming a lawyer someday. But until earlier this month, the high school junior had never even visited a college campus.

During a recent tour of Concordia College, she saw a lecture hall, doubted whether two people could fit into a dorm room and learned the many uses for a student identification card.

"I definitely want to go to college," she said. "I need to go."

Hossein, a native of Somalia who has lived in Fargo for two years, was one of about a dozen South High students who participated in a college planning session for new Americans.

She and her peers attend English Language Learner (ELL) classes for students whose native language isn't English. But they learned that doesn't have to stop them from continuing their education after high school.


"We just want them to feel empowered to go to college," said Katherine Halvorson, an admissions representative at Concordia. "They might have obstacles to overcome, but they can do it."

It's difficult to track the number of non-native English speakers who receive two-year or four-year undergraduate degrees. Most schools and government agencies request information on race or ethnicity, but not language groups.

Local school districts don't keep data on the number of ELL students who graduate or go on to college. Neither does the state of North Dakota.

Minnesota students who have limited proficiency in English graduate at lower rates than their peers, according to 2004 data from its education department. Sixty-seven percent graduated on time, compared to 89 percent of their peers.

At the national level, young adults who don't speak English at home are less likely to continue their education past high school.

About 40 percent of the general population enrolled in at least a two-year postsecondary institution, according to a report published by the National Center for Education Statistics last year. About28 percent of those who speak another language at home did so.

Anecdotally, local colleges say they are seeing more interest from non-native English speakers.

For example, North Dakota State University started offering an intensive English language program to help students improve their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. After they complete the course, students can be fully admitted to the university.


"I think it's easier for us to meet the needs of students this way," said Kisha Lowen, an admission counselor at NDSU. "They have more support and encouragement."

Concordia College's representatives encouraged students to sign up for strong academic high school courses, such as math, science and English. They told students to take the ACT, a college entrance exam, and to visit all of the community's two-year and four-year colleges.

College representatives also reassured students that financial aid could help them pay for more schooling.

"Take the time to figure out which college is best for you," Halvorson said.

Exposure to a college setting is critical for new American students because they often don't know people who attend universities in the United States, said Verlene Dvoracek, coordinator of Fargo's ELL program.

Some students came from countries and situations where they didn't have access to a basic education, much less a university. In those cases, informal conversations about schooling after high school don't occur.

Others are discouraged from thinking about post-secondary education because of their language skills or the costs of continuing their schooling.

"This broadens their horizons," Dvoracek said. "Sometimes they don't even know what college means."


That was demonstrated when one new American student asked the Concordia representatives how college is different from "regular school." The answer: Students are responsible for more reading and studying outside of class.

Cosimiro Lago Gatjal knows the challenges ELL students face. Gatjal, a native of southern Sudan, was a student at Fargo South two years ago.

He wanted to attend college so he could get a good job, but he struggled to fill out the applications. He studied hard to finish high school and to do well on his ACTs.

He's now a sophomore at Concordia.

"Nothing is easy, I always say," he told the students. "But it's doable, it's not impossible."

Still, the global studies major said his freshman year was tougher than he expected. Writing papers and using computers were challenging.

"Don't give up," he said. "There are places to go for help."

Hossein said her parents want her to attend college. Her goal now is to take tougher classes to prepare her for the experience.


Then, it will be on to law school.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

What To Read Next
Get Local