International Development, Community and Environment (IDCE)

Date of Award


Degree Type

Research Paper

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Community Development and Planning (CDP)


International Development, Community and Environment

Chief Instructor

Kathryn Madden, M.C.P., M.S.Arch.S, AICP

Second Reader

Carmen Ocón, Ph.D.


Persistence – or continued, intense study – is a common challenge for adults in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs because of various institutional, situational, and dispositional factors. The current state and federal funding standards for adult ESOL programs are driven by human capital theory, and therefore most funders require demonstrated employment outcomes for students. These top-down objectives do not always align with English learners’ own motivations and goals. ESOL organizations must consider the complexities of these interacting forces to develop effective persistence strategies for their constituents. This case study of an ESOL organization in central Massachusetts is based on information from an English learner focus group, an educator focus group, an anonymous survey, and a quantitative analysis of attendance data. Two major findings emerged from the data. First, English learners’ social context and educational experiences are inseparable, and a special focus must be given to the influence of family and life stage on a student’s educational path. Second, the conflicting priorities of funders, organizations, teachers, and English learners are evident in the classroom. At the organizational level, several changes to instructional strategies and allocation of resources have been recommended to promote learner persistence. Policymakers must reconsider the purposes and desired outcomes of adult ESOL programs when shaping funding standards.



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