Writing the Next Chapter: A Critical Case Study of Undocumented Immigrant College Students’ Lived Experiences
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Over 65,000 undocumented immigrant high school students graduate each year, and many have strong aspirations to continue into a post-secondary institution (Drachman, 2006; Perez, 2010). However, less than 13,000 are actually able to do so (Diaz-Strong, Gomez, Luna-Duarte, & Meiners, 2010). I posited that a major barrier between these students and the college degrees they desire is found in colleges’ interpretation of state (DREAM) policies. Using a Critical Theory lens (Delgado & Stefancic, 1997; Dixson & Rousseau, 2006; Parker & Lynn, 2002) coupled with the concept of hidden curriculum (Bergenhenegouwen, 1987; Perrenoud, 1993; Smith, 2013; Snyder, 1973), I explored the narratives of undocumented immigrant college students regarding their experiences with college access and persistence. Six (6) undocumented immigrant college student participants agreed to talk with me after being recruited to the study by an informant with existing relationships with the undocumented community organizations. These participants shared their college access and persistence experiences with me through semi-structured interviews I conducted by phone. These participants attended one of two Midwestern community colleges. Of note, three participants attended a community college located in a state that had passed DREAM Act legislation. The remaining three participants attended a community college located a few miles away in a state that had rejected DREAM Act legislation. I analyzed interview transcripts in which I was careful to use pseudonyms to protect participating confidentiality. To enrich my understanding of these students’ narratives, I also reviewed relevant institutional policy documents from each community college. To establish trustworthiness my study findings, I then corroborated my findings through the use of a theoretical-sensitivity expert panel (Cahill, Kuhn, Schmoll, Lo, McNally, & Quintana, 2011). Several key themes emerged as a result of my analysis with regard to undocumented immigrant access and persistence at the post-secondary level. These themes included: Sense of Belonging, Barriers to Access and Persistence, Responsibility, Hidden Curriculum, Emotional and Psychological Toll, Personal Advocacy, and Employee Training. Each theme transcended institution. However, some played a more significant role than others in limiting undocumented immigrant access and persistence at the Non-DREAM Act institution. Based on my study’s findings, I offer several recommendations for both policy and practice to increase accessibility and improve persistence of undocumented immigrants at the community college level. Higher education institutions and coordinating agencies must consider the resources, business practices, and institutional policies in place, and the obstacles they present for underserved students, like undocumented immigrants. Additionally, post-secondary administrators and policy makers will see the impact their decisions have throughout the undocumented lifecycle and the need for intentional institutional practice that acknowledges underserved populations.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Review of literature -- Methodology -- Results -- Findings, recommendations, and conclusions -- Appendix A. Consent for participation in a research study -- Appendix B. Interview guide questions