Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


The Experiences of Refugee Students in United States Postsecondary Education

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Ellen Broido (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Patrick Pauken (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Bruce Collet (Other)


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the essence of the lived experience of six students from refugee backgrounds who have navigated postsecondary education in the United States. The researcher used phenomenology to explore and identify the essence of navigating postsecondary education in the U.S. as a refugee because of its focus on participants’ understanding of their lived experiences. The participants of this study represented a range of ages, ethnic and national backgrounds, and academic experiences. Each participant contributed to the full data collection process, which consisted of one journal entry and two semi-structured interviews. The interview sessions and journal entries allowed the researcher to generate biographical profiles for each participant and discover five key themes. Those themes were mobility and higher education; U.S. English language acquisition; negotiating a bicultural identity; connections to a community of national origin; and sources of support for persisting in higher education.

The themes summarizing participants’ collective experiences highlight specific challenges encountered when navigating higher education in the U.S. In doing so, this study expands scholarly and practitioner understanding of the diversity of the U.S. postsecondary environment. However, further research is needed to deepen understanding of how colleges and universities can best support the needs of these students. Those findings shaped the recommendations for future scholarly research. Researchers must continue to clarify policies and practices pertaining to the postsecondary access of students born outside the United States, and especially those students who are from refugee backgrounds. The study concludes with suggestions for professional practice in higher education and student affairs.