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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Chrystal George Mwangi

Subject Categories

Higher Education | Higher Education Administration


Every two seconds a person is forcibly displaced worldwide due to conflict or persecution (UNHCR, 2019). In the United States between 2011 and 2015, only 1% of adults from refugee backgrounds was working on a bachelor’s degree and only 4.4% on an associate degree (Office of Refugee Resettlement, 2017). Given the low educational attainment rate of students from refugee backgrounds, promoting educational access among students from refugee backgrounds and understanding their experiences in higher education is critical to their successes and the success of the United States as a whole. The purpose of this study is to understand the stories of persisting college students from refugee backgrounds who have successfully navigated the K-12 school system and entered higher education in the United States. I conducted an in-depth study of the experiences of five college students from refugee backgrounds in the Greater Boston area, following a narrative inquiry approach (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Riessman, 2008) and relying on individual interviews and college admission personal statements as the main sources of data. The findings revealed that the students from refugee backgrounds in this study used at least one form of community cultural wealth capital, often multiple ones, to access college and transition to college. Participants especially relied on familial capital and social capital for both college access and transition. Additionally, two forms of capital that emerged in this study are not in Yosso’s (2005) CCW model: (a) affective capital (Kwan, 2019) and (b) agentic capital (new in this study). Based on the students’ narratives, I developed a diagram for intergenerational posttraumatic transformation (IPT) to illustrate how students from refugee backgrounds engaged with the different forms of cultural capital to successfully access college and transition to college. Implications for policy, practice, and further research are discussed. This study contributes to the higher education literature by problematizing college access and transition among students from refugee backgrounds from an anti-deficit, strengths perspective. This study also highlights the importance of high schools and colleges being intentional in providing information and support services to students from refugee backgrounds and not leaving their successes to chance.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Thursday, May 14, 2026