Refugee students and scholars have made crucial contributions to U.S. higher education. Colleges and universities have a rich legacy of welcoming refugees and their families onto their campuses and communities, embracing the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds that they bring to the U.S. At a time when there are more than 108 million displaced people in the world, many of them women, children, and families, U.S. higher education can play an important role in maintaining U.S.commitment to welcoming refugees.
Today, only around 7% of refugee students have access to higher education. Campuses across the U.S. have implemented innovative programs and practices to aid refugees and other vulnerable communities in accessing higher education, achieving degree completion, obtaining career preparation, and finding long-term success.
As part of an ongoing collaboration to scope what the U.S. higher education community is doing to support refugees and at-risk migrants, the University Alliance for Refugees and At-Risk Migrants (UARRM) and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration (the Presidents’ Alliance) released a report entitled, “Walking the Talk: How University Communities Can Foster Higher Education Opportunities for Refugee Students & Scholars.” This report highlights initiatives helping to alleviate barriers to higher education for refugee-background populations within and outside of the United States. These cases can inspire more higher education practitioners to take further action on behalf of displaced students and scholars. Access the report here.
Universities can facilitate refugee access to their campuses by offering scholarship/ mentorship programs targeted towards the refugee student. This document will provide universities with necessary background information on challenges facing domestic and overseas refugees while accessing higher education in the US throughout the educational pipeline: pre-admission, after admission, and post- graduation. It also provides sets
of recommendations on addressing these challenges
to make US campuses more accessible and welcoming for refugee students. These recommendations require full collaboration between different players on campus: presidents, administrators, deans of schools, directors
of programs, office of admissions, office of financial aid, office of international students, faculty and students. Access the report here.
With the expanding use of a greater variety of immigration protections for displaced persons in the U.S. and emerging state legislation expanding access to in-state tuition for forcibly displaced students, it can be challenging for students and staff to understand what they are eligible for. The Presidents Alliance has developed a resource that offers a breakdown of statuses displaced students may present, resources to understand refugee eligibility for higher education admissions, financial aid, and in-state tuition, as well as types of documentation students may use to demonstrate their status when seeking financial aid or in-state tuition. Access the resource here.
Additional resources on in-state tuition for refugee students:
- A growing number of states have implemented statewide policies expanding access to in-state tuition and state financial to individuals with refugee and other humanitarian statuses. More information is available here.
- The International Refugee Assistance Project and Refugee Advocacy Lab conducted analysis of in-state tuition laws and policies in all 50 states as they would apply to humanitarian parolees, refugees, asylum seekers, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) and TPS holders. More information is available here.
Every year refugees don’t know how to continue their studies in the U.S without a U.S. transcript or certificate. If a refugee student has completed their studies outside the United States, credentials can be evaluated, especially for employment, furthering education, professional licensure. There are educational evaluation organizations, such as ECE, ERES, and WES that can help assess your transcripts. Also, students often need to submit the scores obtained from one of the English Standard Tests, such as TOEFL, before being admitted to a U.S. college or university. Duolingo English Test provides an alternative to traditional English tests at low or no cost for refugee students. Access more information here.
Switchboard designed this toolkit to help resettlement professionals and other service providers navigate federal student aid, including important considerations and tips for supporting refugees, asylees, SIVs, victims of trafficking, and Cuban/Haitian entrants through the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) process. Access the resource here.
Refugee and asylee students face unique challenges in their quests to obtain postsecondary education. This tip sheet is designed to help financial aid administrators working with this population with some of the questions they may have processing the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) for these students. Access the resource here.
The Kentucky Humanitarian Assistance Scholarship: Toolkit to Support Displaced Students in Kentucky
In 2022, the Kentucky General Assembly provided $10 million in funding for the Kentucky Innovative Scholarship Pilot Project (KISPP). Through the state budget bill, House Bill 1, the legislature directed the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) and the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) to establish a pilot program supported with this funding appropriated to provide college access and promote undergraduate student success for displaced students and for students participating in international exchange programs. A Community of Practice (CoP) was launched and its leaders developed a toolkit that consolidates content from CoP workshops in a format that allows readers to easily reference each session. The toolkit aims to uplift advice from experts and practitioners who work with displaced populations in Kentucky and nationally and, who lent their time and insight to members of the CoP. The toolkit also includes the voices of CoP members and scholarship recipients themselves throughout the toolkit. More information about the KYHAS is available here.
Public community colleges enroll around 4,662,364 students. Additionally, immigrant-origin students accounted in 2018 for 5.3 million students, or 28% of all students, in higher education. Community colleges often serve as the gateway into higher education for many immigrant and refugee students; particularly for undocumented students. Given these large numbers, the purpose of this guide is to ensure that campuses, both 2 and 4 year, consider the unique experiences and challenges that undocumented and refugee students face during the transfer process. This guide is intended to provide tangible examples and resources that community colleges and 4-year institutions can adapt to create inclusive materials and programs and intentionally support the college and career success of undocumented and refugee students as they transfer. Access the resource here.
Sample models: successful models implemented to increase educational opportunities for resettled refugees.
- Arizona State University (additional information coming soon)
- Bard College: enrolling and supporting displaced students and scholars
- Salt Lake Community College (additional information coming soon)
- One Refugee: Supporting Students From Refugee Backgrounds
Key organizations providing technical support and resources
The Presidents’ Alliance refugee student initiatives mobilizes higher education institutions for the implementation of university sponsorship of retugee students, provides resources, expertise, and technical assistance to institutions enrolling and supporting displaced and refugee students, advocates for inclusive and equitable federal, state, and campus policies that support access to academic and immigration pathways for refugee and displaced students, and develops and promote research and narratives that recognize the contributions of refugee students, scholars, staff, and alumni in U.S. communities and on campuses. Contact PAHEI
World Education Services (WES), is a non-profit social enterprise that supports the educational, economic, and social inclusion of immigrants, refugees, and international students. WES has developed a wide range of tools to pursue social impact at scale, from evaluating academic credentials to shaping policy, designing programs, and providing philanthropic funding. WES partners with a diverse set of organizations, leaders, and networks to uplift individuals and drive systems change. The WES Gateway Program assesses the educational credentials of individuals who have limited proof of their academic achievements. Contact WES.
RCP helps enable refugees to achieve self-sufficiency by obtaining the necessary credentials, education, experience, and job skills to secure employment in professional and/or skilled career fields. RCP assists refugee participants to learn about career pathways and develop personalized career development plans for career entry and advancement. Higher education institutions and other RCP program grantees provide the necessary training and technical assistance to participants to overcome obstacles to initiating their careers and ensure they have the resources and knowledge needed to succeed. More information on the program and grantees here.
Spotlights & Models: successful models at the intersetion of ELL and Career pathways.
- Everett Community College: I-BEST Career Pathways
- Highline College: The Puget Sound Welcome Back Center
- Lake Washington Institute of Technology: I-BEST/Guided Pathways
- Miami Dade College: Foreign-Trained Professionals Program
- Montgomery College: WorkPlus+ Program
- Pima Community College: Refugee Education Program
Key organizations providing technical support and resources
Upwardly Global is a national organization working to support immigrants and refugees with international credentials to restart their careers in the United States. The organizations works job seekers, employers and workforce partners such as community colleges and provides access to a number of complementary resources. Upwardly Global’s unique online learning curriculum, coaching support, reskilling and upskilling courses, certifications, and technical assistance can help establish or enhance organizations’ capacity to serve internationally trained newcomers. Contact Upwardly Global here.
Welcome Corps on Campus launched in July 2023 and as a groundbreaking opportunity for college and university communities to sponsor refugee students. With the support of institutional leadership, staff, faculty, students, and community members work together to welcome refugee students and provide an educational pathway, setting them up for academic and overall success. U.S. public and private universities and colleges enroll talented students currently living as refugees overseas and support their resettlement to the U.S. As part of the college and university sponsorship program, refugee students will apply to be admitted as first-year students at the sponsoring two or four-year college or university and enter the U.S. as refugees.
The Welcome Corps on Campus operates under the umbrella of the Welcome Corps, the broader U.S. private sponsorship program that was launched by the U.S. Department of State in January 2023 for refugees admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).
The Department of State funds a consortium of non-profit organizations with expertise in resettlement and higher education to implement the Welcome Corps on Campus. Led by Community Sponsorship Hub (CSH), the consortium includes Every Campus A Refuge (ECAR), the Institute of International Education (IIE), the National Association of Higher Education Systems (NASH), the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, and World University Service of Canada (WUSC).
This webinar that provided an overview of opportunities and effective practices for campuses to enroll and support refugee students from overseas. The webinar highlighted the work of three college access programs, KenSAP, Syrian Youth Empowerment Initiative, and DuoLingo/UNHCR Advising, that support refugee students’ access to higher education. It also highlighted the opportunities for collaboration to enroll refugee students and campuses shared effective practices from their experiences working with partners to recruit and admit refugee students. You can access the recording and resources for this webinar here.
Webinar: Uplifting Campus Resources: Effective Practices to Support Refugee Students in Higher Ed (Part 1- Refugee Student Enrollment & Leveraging Financial Resources)
This two part webinar series to provide an overview of resources and effective practices for campuses to enroll and support refugee students, focused specifically on refugee students on F1 student visas and humanitarian parole. The webinar series covered a broad range of topics that will set the stage for future more in depth workshops and communities of practice. In Part 1, leading campus and organizational experts shared resources and models on 1) Supportive & Inclusive Recruitment & Application Process 2) Understanding Documentation & Immigration Pathways, and 3) Leveraging Financial Resources. You can access the recording and resources for this webinar here.
A limited number of U.S. colleges and universities offer scholarships specifically for refugee or displaced students. You can find many of these scholarships listed on UNHCR or IIE’s websites. These scholarships create opportunities for refugee students to access U.S. higher education and a way for colleges and universities to welcome and bring the incredible talents of refugee students to their campus. While refugee students follow similar guidelines and pathways as international students, there are some unique considerations for colleges and universities when developing or offering scholarships for refugees overseas. Consider this eight things and tips when plaining on offering a scholarship to refugee students overseas.
With an uptick in the use of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) as a humanitarian protection, higher education institutions had been inquiring how to help students navigate this status and Special Student Relief (SSR). This webinar provided an overview of TPS and SSR as they impact students and higher education institutions. You can access the recording and resources for this webinar here.
The Global Task Force on Third Country Education Pathways (GTF) promotes and supports the expansion of tertiary education as a complementary pathway for refugee students. Increasing the number of higher education pathways will not only help grow the number of refugees enrolled in higher education to 15% by 2030, as set forth in the Refugee Education 2030: A Strategy for Refugee Inclusion, and pursue the renovated goals of the Third Country Solutions for Refugees: Roadmap 2030 as a continuation of the efforts done through The Three-Year Strategy (2019-2021) on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways. More information is available here.
Sample models: successful models on recruiting and enrolling refugees students from overseas.
Upwardly Global 2023 report, “Unlocking Potential: Enhancing Community College Services for Immigrant and Refugee Students.”
A 2023 survey of campus practitioners found that “Close to 80% of respondents say their community college needs to improve their capacity in meeting the specific needs of immigrant and refugee students.” Recommendations include encouraging community colleges to explore diverse sources of funding for services, invest in career services for these populations, increase training of faculty and staff to better serve immigrant and refugee students, and leverage statewide and national networks. Read the report here.
Webinar: Uplifting Campus Resources: Effective Practices to Support Refugee Students in Higher Ed (PART 2: Building On Campus Support for Refugee Students)
This two part webinar series to provide an overview of resources and effective practices for campuses to enroll and support refugee students, focused specifically on refugee students on F1 student visas and humanitarian parole. The webinar series covered a broad range of topics that will set the stage for future more in depth workshops and communities of practice. In Part 2, leading campus and organizational experts shared resources and models on 1) Campus Collaboration 2) Expanding Access to Legal Services 3) Creating Cohorts and Community and 4) Fostering Migration & Trauma Informed Campuses. You can access the recording and resources for this webinar here.
As colleges and universities aim to welcome students that have experienced displacement, it’s important to foster campuses that are migration and trauma-informed spaces.
One step some campuses are taking is Psychological First Aid (PFA) training. PFA is a tool that can be used for anyone, but can also be used to support students who have experienced forced-displacement and associated trauma. PFA builds on human resilience and aims to provide support in ways that respect an individual’s dignity, culture, and abilities. More information is available here.
Sample models: successful models on supporting displaced students on campus.
- Western Kentucky University: Student-to-Student Resilient Refugee Navigator Program (additional information soon)