Obstacles to Accessing Higher Education for Refugee and Immigrant Adolescents in Middle Tennessee

Authors: James Chaney*, Middle Tennessee State University, Denise Bates, Middle Tennessee State University, Claire Cook, Middle Tennessee State University, Ida Fadzillah, Middle Tennessee State University, Laura Clark, Middle Tennessee State University
Topics: Ethnic Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism, Qualitative Research
Keywords: Refugees, Immigrants, Resettlement, Education, Integration
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Galvez, , Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper presents the preliminary results of an ongoing study of the various challenges immigrant and refugee adolescents face accessing higher education in Rutherford County, a suburban county situated in the Nashville-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN, Metropolitan Statistical Area (Nashville MSA). The Nashville MSA boasts a dynamic, burgeoning refugee and immigrant demographic composite and is home to the state’s largest foreign-born population. Currently, Tennessee ranks 42nd in the U.S. in the number adults with at least an associate’s degree or higher. Consequently, this negatively affects the state’s competitiveness in a global, knowledge-based economy. To increase the percentage of Tennesseans with higher education degrees, the state began offering free attendance in 2015 to Tennessee community colleges for students who graduate high school and meet institutional requirements. Although this policy has made access to higher education attainable to many Tennesseans, immigrant and refugee high school students enrolled in English Language Learner (ELL) programs have been less likely to pursue post-secondary education following graduation. This study explores the obstacles responsible for the low post-secondary degree attainment of Tennessee’s refugee and immigrant population by conducting interviews and focus groups with ELL students and their parents from Rutherford County’s Latino, Arabic-speaking, and Karen community as well as high school ELL teachers and counselors. The findings of this study elucidate the drastically diverse challenges and perceived barriers ELL students of different ethnicity, nationality, and immigration status contend with regarding the pursuit of higher education in Tennessee.

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