Pursuing higher education is often a pathway to higher income and overall better well-being. College graduates are less likely to rely on public benefits. Therefore, it’s beneficial for education leaders and policymakers to help newcomers – including asylum-seekers and refugees – to access higher education in the U.S., whether it be community college, taking advanced English courses, obtaining a certificate through training programs or going to a four-year university.
Despite these clear benefits, we have found that higher education can often be an elusive goal for people who’ve fled their homeland in search of a better life in the U.S.
We all study policy and education issues that affect refugees. Over the past year and a half, the three of us – Kerri Evans, Ishara Casellas Connors and Lisa Unangst – teamed up to learn more about higher education pathways for refugees, asylum-seekers, recent Afghan parolees and people with temporary protected status, in the Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. area.
We partnered with Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, one of the largest refugee resettlement agencies on the East Coast. We as researchers established a community advisory board of local refugees and other immigrants to guide the research process.
While our findings have implications for all refugees and asylum-seekers, we see our findings as particularly relevant for the nearly 77,000 Afghans who entered the U.S. with temporary immigration statuses from 2021 to 2023. Most arrived with parole status, which allows temporary stay and work in the U.S. for only two years. After that, renewals are needed. Parole status confers no option for lawful permanent resident status, unlike what happens when people fleeing their homeland arrive with official refugee status.