Brett Ranon Nachman
| Apr 20, 2018
Our second episode of WISCAPE’s “Now in Higher Ed” podcast features an interview with So Hee Hyun, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW-Madison. Hyun previously served as a researcher at the Korean Educational Development Institute, where she analyzed longitudinal data to track outcomes for Korean college students. Currently, she works with Dr. Eric Camburn, studying high school students’ educational pathways. Her primary research interests include international graduate students’ academic and non-academic experiences, as well as immigrant students’ college access and trajectories.
In the episode, Hyun discusses her dissertation work on the experiences of immigrant community college transfer students. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
- Hyun drew on and combined two major branches of literature for shaping her dissertation. First, she reviewed pieces on community college transfer students, often focused on minoritized populations, and she found limited work on immigrant students. Therefore, she also relied on studies centered on immigrant students in postsecondary education more generally to understand how they transition to American higher education and reach particular educational objectives. Hyun’s qualitative study involved interviewing immigrant students with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as varying degrees of social and economic capital. Most of Hyun’s interviewees included current undergraduate immigrant transfer students, although some had already earned a bachelor’s degree.
- Hyun finds that immigrant students, who are often first-generation students and whose families possess limited English proficiency, may struggle with financial aid and college applications, thus navigating this process independently. Generational differences are also significant. She noted, “The second and third generation of immigrants, they are actually fluent in English, but ... some of the institutions are requiring [them] to take the ELS class for the immigrant students, even [for those] who are speaking good at English as well, so they are kind of making stigmas of immigrants as the people who cannot speak English as well,” she said. “It’s really varying by their generation and background of education as well, because if the students came here to the United States when they were really young, they are fluent in English,” but “some of the students said they are kind of feeling really embarrassed to take [those] classes, because the classes assume ... they are non-native speakers,” Hyun added. Consequently, colleges should be more attuned the spectrum of language fluency among immigrant students, she said.
- Additionally, immigrant transfer students pay close attention to the number of credits they need to graduate. Duplicate requirements may require them to spend more money and extend their time to graduation. “As immigrants, they have an additional responsibility to take additional credits, such as language and basic science,” Hyun said. Furthermore, “if someone has the high number of credits waived, the students have more confidence on their educational experiences in four-year institutions, and they have a really clear vision and goal after graduation. But on the other side, some students who waived the credits from the community college, they were really struggling to pursue their degree and deciding their major, and so they are kind of struggling to find what they have to do after graduation.”
- Personal experiences and institutional practices embody the primary lines of inquiry for Hyun’s study. In terms of personal experiences, Hyun said that “although most participants had social difficulties at the four-year institution as immigrants and transfer students, they tried to find and join groups of people who could understand them, just the way they were.” For example, one participant found friends with “culturally open-minded peers.” Another tried to find fellow transfer students who commuted from home. Many immigrant transfer students sought diverse friends, but often tried to stay “in a bubble” among those with similar life experiences. Hyun said she will explore this theme further in interviews and focus groups.
- At the institutional level, advisors’ high loads can compromise the capacity to individually support immigrant transfer students. “Most of the students said that the academic advisor has a really crucial role in guiding their pathways to getting degrees and structuring their course-taking, but, as you know, one student advisor is serving so many students, and they cannot understand their [students’] backgrounds in detail, and it has a limitation to help those immigrant transfer students,” Hyun said. Often, they would receive general guidelines and advice from advisors, who focused too strongly on students’ degree attainment, as opposed to their personal experiences.
Hyun’s dissertation work continues, as she interviews more immigrant transfer students to best capture their experiences and opportunities. At the conclusion of the episode, Hyun offered recommendations to doctoral students on how they can make the most of their graduate school experiences. “I would say to go out to [the] field and see how your research in education can be applied into the real world.”
Listen to the full episode on PodBean, or by searching for "WISCAPE Now in Higher Ed" on iTunes.
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