Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education



First Advisor

Carolyn P. Panofsky


As the changing demographics in the United States are steadily shifting the student populations in colleges and universities, the focus on retention and college success becomes ever more important. When marginalized and underrepresented students like Asian Americans enter post-secondary education institutions and are assumed to fit stereotypes like the Model Minority Myth which suggests that all Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students are high achievers, how do these students succeed and continue with their education under challenges including discrimination, language barriers (Lee, 2008) and cultural tension (Xiong and Lee, 2011; Ngo, 2007)? This study explores the experiences of Hmong college students. More specifically, the goal of this research is to describe how Hmong students make sense of their college experiences from their perspectives by examining two research questions: How do Hmong students make sense of their experiences in college? What contexts and situations influence the experiences and success of Hmong students in college? This research uses a phenomenological approach consisting of in-depth interviews with Hmong students from a New England college and Hmong individuals who have graduated from college. The first interview required the participants to respond to questions exploring their family backgrounds, experiences in schools prior to college, and their experiences in post-secondary education. The second interview was facilitated to provide opportunities for participants to elaborate on statements and stories from the first interview and was used for member checking. The students’ responses from the interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and analyzed. Using phenomenological analysis and specifically thematic inductive analysis, the data were analyzed to develop themes. Three themes emerged from the data and captured how Hmong students make sense of their college experience: navigating the college system, support structures, and living in a bicultural world: “I am Hmong American”. These themes were used to develop recommendations for practitioners in higher education and suggestions for future research.



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