College capital and constraint agency: First-Generation immigrant emergent-bilingual students' college success


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.

Publication Title

Teachers College Record

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