The attainment of a college degree has long been a part of the American dream. For the English learner, however, reaching this goal is a task fraught with difficulty. Yet, as the participants in this study demonstrate, it is possible. In this qualitative, phenomenological study of seven current community college students who graduated from a Southern California high school, not yet proficient in the English language, the researcher sought to identify the factors that both encouraged and discouraged their decision to pursue higher education. This study collected original data on factors within the school setting, peers, family and personal characteristics that supported or discouraged the participant continuing their education past high school. To identify facets most significant in each of the three areas, the data is viewed through the lens of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory. The English –only policy is viewed through the lens of the Critical Race Theory and student experiences highlight the restrictive nature an English only policy places on our state’s English learner population. Conclusions derived from this study point to the importance of adult and peer relationships in the adolescent’s life, and the significance seemly small acts can have on the English learner’s decision to continue on to higher education. To support the English learner population, recommendations of primary language support upon entrance into the California school system, and the establishment of a bilingual single subject English credential for secondary English teachers is suggested. Further recommendations include a standard practice for reviewing the English learner’s language proficiency quarterly, research into what allowed the adolescent to reject negative perceptions of the peers may build upon the body of research into strategies to support the English learner. Last, this study was limited to current community college students in the Southern California region. Research into English learners who went into a four-year university may develop findings that support or contradict this study and broaden the research base into school, peer, and family factors that encourage English learners decision to continue on to higher education.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Leadership, administration, and policy; English language -- Study and teaching -- Foreign speakers -- Education (Higher) -- California (Southern) -- Case studies; High school students -- California (Southern) -- Case studies; College attendance -- California (Southern) -- Case studies

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Purrington, Linda;