Mary Fontes

Date of Award

January 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Margaret A. Healy


The purpose of this research was to explore Somali women refugee students' lives and to identify what factors influenced their program decisions at two-year colleges in the Midwest. Refugees have been admitted to the United States (U. S.) as early as 1948 under the Displaced Persons Act. Some states have experienced a greater influx of refugees than others. Employment and economic self-sufficiency are emphasized as quickly as possible after arrival in the United States. Some foreign-born individuals, who aren't prepared for employment, pursue education. Somali women refugees who pursue education may be doing so unprepared or counter to cultural norms (Ward, 2008). What factors influence these Somali women refugee students' lives and program decisions? Eight participants were interviewed. The women shared their life stories through a semi-structured interview approach. Seven themes emerged from the data that described what factors influenced their lives and programs decisions: 1) family is central and supportive, 2) life was and is difficult, 3) lack of English language skills is a significant barrier, 4) education is essential for improving their lives, 5) helping others is important, 6) educational supportive assistance is helpful, and 7) cultural influences have an impact. This study was an attempt to gain insight into the lives of Somali women immigrant students enrolled at two-year colleges in the Midwest. Through the student narratives, those who work in higher education may learn how to support Somali women refugee students throughout their educational experiences and in the identification of program choices.