A family affair: African immigrant families conceptualizing and navigating college choice

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The purpose of this study was to understand the postsecondary aspirations, expectations, and access strategies of sub-Saharan African immigrant families in the United States. This study generates knowledge around how 1.5- and second-generation African immigrant college going students and their first-generation immigrant parents conceptualize and navigate the college choice process. The primary framework utilized for this study was Hossler and Gallagher's (1987) combined model of college choice, with funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff & Gonzalez, 2005) and ecocultural theory (Weisner, 1997) serving as supplemental frameworks. Following an ethnographic multiple case design, four families (cases) from Nigeria and Kenya were recruited to participate. Data from demographic questionnaires, in-depth interviews, participant observations and participatory diagramming were used to identify how families conceptualize and navigate college choice.

While Hossler and Gallagher's (1987) model was useful, findings reveal a much more rich and complex college choice process that reflects the development of a college-going culture. Therefore, this study presents a new frame for understanding the college choice process of the cases by using baobab trees as a metaphor to illustrate how the families in this study engaged in college choice as Baobab Families. Baobab Families engaged in college choice as a family process, which emphasizes the development of a college-going culture within the home and community. Although Baobab Families experienced challenges in navigating the U.S. educational system and the college choice process, they used a number of proactive strategies as well as familial and culturally based resources to socialize children into a college-going culture as well as to navigate the college choice process. These included college-going legacies, active home-based parental involvement, high academic expectations and pressure, the use of cultural and familial identity, and extended family/community networks. This study can contribute to emerging scholarship on African immigrants in higher education and push education research, practice and policy to keep pace with today's changing student demographics.