National Council of Instructional Administrators



Minerva Tuliao,

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Published by the National Council of Instructional Administrators (NCIA)


Taken from: Tuliao, M. D., Hatch, D. K., & Torraco, R. J. (2017). Refugee students in community colleges: How colleges can respond to an emerging demographic challenge. Journal of Applied Research in the Community College, 24(1), 15-26.

Emir (not his real name) is in his early-twenties and is in his first year pursuing an associate’s degree at a community college in Nebraska. Three years ago, Emir and his family were resettled in Nebraska as refugees, fleeing their home country of Iraq due to the violence brought upon by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Emir did not know any English upon arrival and spent many hours each day learning the language in order to study and find work. Upon graduation, Emir would like to work in a health science field. Emir is just one of an unknown number of refugee students studying in colleges in Nebraska. There is no governing agency that keeps track of the numbers of refugees studying in higher education across the United States. It is estimated that a third of the 7.5 million students in community colleges come from families who migrated to the United States (American Association of Community Colleges, 2015). Yet, there is no information of just how many of these immigrant students are refugees, and even less is known about their educational needs in community colleges. Upon arrival, refugees like Emir seek to attend some form of educational institution, particularly community college (Hollands, 2012). College can be a means to adapt and thrive in a new society, and can open the opportunity to immerse in the culture of their resettled communities, expand social networks, continue schooling, or learn skills for a sustainable job. Due to circumstances of forced displacement, however, refugees may have different needs in college compared to other types of immigrants. Those pursuing higher education can face many challenges. Experiences such as disrupted schooling, living in transient camps, being separated from families, and losing loved ones at war result in health and socioemotional problems that can affect learning and adaptation (Iversen, Sveass, & Morken, 2012; Joyce, Earnest, de Mori, & Silvagni, 2010; Stebleton, 2007; Taffer, 2010). The college experience is more overwhelming if recently-arrived refugeestudentsareadultswith limited skills and education, come from non-industrialized communities, and are expected to juggle new roles while learning English, resettling in a new country, finding a job or working, and studying at the same time (Earnest, Joyce, de Mori, & Silvagni, 2010; Joyce, et al., 2010). Refugees are also more likely to attend relatively lower-cost community colleges than 4-year universities for their education (Hollands, 2012; Perry, 2008), as they are found to be more economically disadvantaged than other types of immigrants (Connor, 2010).