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College Capital and Constraint Agency: First-Generation Immigrant Emergent-Bilingual Students’ College Success

by Manka Varghese & Ronald Fuentes - 2020

Background/Context: Language-minoritized and emergent-bilingual (EB) students have historically and frequently been underexamined in the context of research on minoritized students’ pathways in higher education. Understanding the school to college pipeline for emergent bilinguals (EBs) is becoming a critical area of study to help identify and address the barriers that they experience as they attempt to transition to and navigate postsecondary education. Despite there being a greater knowledge of the barriers experienced by EBs in getting to college, less is known about the resources they bring and their agency, the way they actually mobilize the resources that they possess in negotiating their success to get to and complete college.

Purpose/Research Question: This study examines why and how some EB students can successfully navigate their environments in order to apply for, get into and complete a selective four-year college. It is guided by two overarching questions: (1) What forms of capital do first generation immigrant EBs draw on to apply for and navigate selective four-year college? (2) How do first generation immigrant EBs navigate and complete selective four-year college?

Research Design: We examined the pathways of EBs through a conceptual framework which frames their college success as being a result of the relationship between what we refer to as their college capital which they have access to and that they draw on, and their constraint agency. Through interviews, this study analyzes 33 first generation undergraduate immigrant EBs’ transition to and completion of tertiary education, with further analysis being supplemented with in-depth case studies of five out of the 33 EBs. Additionally, we interviewed 14 university administrators and instructors involved in the admission and instruction of EB students on campus.

Conclusions/Recommendations: EB immigrant students drew on different forms of college capital, which included traditional and non-traditional. Students who drew more on traditional kinds of capital participated more in high participatory agentive ways while students who drew more on non-traditional forms of college capital participated more in low participatory agentive ways. Both forms of participating (low and high) lead to students navigating and completing four-year college. We suggest that more differential forms of help, resources and EB-student–focused partnerships between high school, community colleges, and four-year college which include working on their agentive selves are needed as well as challenging the racism and linguicism that holds White monolingual students as the norm to configure policies and services that will help EBs’ postsecondary pathways.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 1, 2020, p. 1-54
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22938, Date Accessed: 9/24/2021 1:15:01 AM

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About the Author
  • Manka Varghese
    University of Washington
    E-mail Author
    MANKA VARGHESE is an associate professor at the University of Washington's College of Education in Language, Literacy Culture. Her teaching and research have focused on understanding and re-envisioning the teaching and learning trajectories of teachers of multilingual youth—mainly through the lens of teacher identity—and multilingual youth transitioning to post-secondary lives. Varghese, M., Daniels, J., & Park, C. (in press). Structuring disruption: Race-based caucuses in teacher education programs. To appear in Special issue: Preparing Asset, Equity, and Social Justice Oriented Teachers Within the Contemporary Political Challenges to University-based Teacher Education Programs. Teachers College Record.
  • Ronald Fuentes
    University of Memphis
    E-mail Author
    RONALD FUENTES is Associate Professor at the University of Memphis’ Department of English. His research interests include language policy in education, language and identity, and immigration. He is particularly interested in how different social, political, familial, and educational decisions position individuals in multilingual and multicultural environments. Fuentes, R. (2016). Language, identity, and citizenship in a U.S. university: Immigrant English learners’ identity (re)positioning. Current Issues in Language Planning, 17(3-4), 405-421.
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