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"It's Different Here": Complicating Concepts of College Knowledge and First Generation Through an Immigrant Lens

by Chrystal A. George Mwangi — 2018

Background/Context: Children of immigrants are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. child population, and these children are increasingly entering the U.S. educational pipeline and seeking access to college. Gaining access to college in the United States requires college knowledge. Yet, obtaining college knowledge can be difficult for immigrant families, who may lack familiarity with the U.S. education system. Although one third of all immigrants possess a college degree, many earned their degree abroad or in the United States as international students and/or adult learners. Therefore, the children of college-educated immigrants may be the first in their family to seek access to college via the U.S. K–12 system.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study explores how African immigrant multigenerational families engage in college preparation. All families had at least one parent who had attained a college degree. In each family, the college-educated parent(s) either received their degree abroad or received their degree in the United States as an international student or adult returning student. The research questions are: How do immigrant families explain navigating the college-going process when their children are first in the family to prepare for college via the U.S. K–12 system? How do immigrant families describe their level of comfort with college preparation when their children are first in the family to prepare for college via the U.S. K–12 system?

Research Design: A qualitative, multiple case design was used.

Findings/Results: The findings demonstrate that although the children in this study were not first generation to college in a traditional sense, they experienced many of the same challenges. For the families in this study, the parents possessed institutionalized capital but often lacked what emerged as “U.S.-based college knowledge,” which impacted their experience with the college choice process.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Families’ lack of familiarity with the U.S. college preparation process (college testing, academic tracking, cost of college/financial aid) leads to a call for complicating concepts of “college knowledge” and “first generation” to college in a globalized society.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 11, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22458, Date Accessed: 8/16/2018 9:39:05 PM

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About the Author
  • Chrystal George Mwangi
    University of Massachusetts Amherst
    E-mail Author
    CHRYSTAL A. GEORGE MWANGI is an assistant professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Policy, Research and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her scholarship broadly centers on structures of opportunity and educational attainment for underrepresented populations along the P–20 education pipeline; the impact of globalization and migration on the U.S. education system; and African and African Diaspora populations in higher education. Dr. George Mwangi has published in these research areas in journals including Review of Higher Education, Higher Education, and Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.
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