Master of Arts in Higher Education Theses

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Scott Gaier

Second Advisor

Todd Ream

Third Advisor

Skip Trudeau


From 2005 to 2016, over 12,000 students from Burma have pursued higher education in the US, and the numbers have risen each year (Institute of International Education, 2016). Due to the ongoing civil war in Burma, many of these students come to the US as refugees. This qualitative phenomenological study examined the experiences of Burmese refugees in U.S. higher education to understand better their daily challenges and motivations. The participants in this study were six Burmese refugees enrolled in undergraduate programs at U.S. higher education institutions and one program director at a community organization that serves and empowers the local Burmese population. The researcher conducted one-on-one, semi-structured interviews with participants to gather information.

Results of this study revealed four major motivations for participants to succeed in higher education: family, personal effort, educational opportunities, and faculty support. Additionally, results showed barriers to participants’ success included language, cultural insecurities, and finances. Results also indicated two themes emphasized by participants as helpful in their college experiences: first-year college orientation programs and cultural curiosity.

Implications for practice include developing greater access to higher education for the Burmese population, practicing cultural curiosity, offering language support, and fostering inclusive first-year orientation programs. This research underscores for higher education professionals the importance of creating spaces for cultural curiosity amongst students, faculty, and staff, and how first-year programs have greatly assisted participants during their transition. If higher education professionals consider the barriers to the success of Burmese refugees as well as the students’ motivations, practitioners can better welcome, equip, challenge, and support these students.