The Impacts of Acculturation Patterns and Processes on Immigrants' Success in Higher Education: A Multiple Case Study of 1.25-~Generation Third-~Wave Iranian Immigrants to the United States

Fereshteh Rezaeian


The United States of America is inherently a pluralistic society composed of various groups of immigrants. As scholars (Camarota & Zeigler, 2016; Gibson, 1998) state, the number of immigrant children accounts for 20% of the total number of school-age children. Despite all attempts to provide the best education to such a great number of immigrant students, the achievement gap between immigrant and non-immigrant students still exists (Baum & Flores, 2011; Rong & Preissle, 2008). Some scholars (e.g., Ramos & Sanchez, 1995) have proposed that the key factor for immigrants to be successful in the United States is to adapt to the American culture and norms. Neoliberal educational policies reinforce such a belief.

Using Critical Race Theory (CRT) as the framework, this study explored the impacts of immigrants’ acculturation patterns and processes on their success in higher education. The focus was on 1.25-generation immigrants, i.e., immigrants who were between 13 and 17 years old at the time of arrival in the United States. Among all types of immigrant children, 1.25-generation immigrants are more likely to show resistance towards cultural shift (Rumbaut, 1998); therefore, conducting this research with 1.25-generation immigrants provided an opportunity to explore the impacts of acculturation patterns on academic achievement of immigrant children who were most likely to maintain their origin culture.

This research started with four questions: (a) How do acculturation patterns and processes of 1.25-generation immigrants affect their success in higher education?, (b) How have 1.25- generation immigrants’ cultural values changed after immigration?, (c) How does 1.25- generation immigrants’ resistance to cultural shift affect their success in higher education?, and (d) How do 1.25-generation immigrants’ educational experiences in the United States differ due to gender?

For this study, a qualitative multiple case study was used. This research had three phases: an introductory phase during which participants learned about the purpose of the research and the researcher’s connection to the study, an interview phase in which participants were asked about their cultural and educational experiences in the United States, and a member-checking phase during which participants learned about the implications of the study and were asked to share their thoughts about the accuracy of the findings.

Four major themes were constructed from analyzing the transcribed data: (a) additive linguistic acculturation, which referred to the cultural funds of immigrants as valuable assets; (b) cultural incorporation and integration, which illustrated the general pattern of acculturation among the majority of the participants; (c) conformist resistance, which referred to the participants’ type of resistance towards American culture; and (d) discrimination relativity, which referred to the participants’ perception of discrimination in the United States.

A detailed analysis of the findings provided four possible answers for the research questions: (a) patterns of acculturation did not have any major effect on the participants’ academic success; (b) although acculturation patterns of the majority of the participants had moved towards integration, the individuals’ differences were noticeable; (c) a conformist type of resistance to adopting the culture of the host country did not have major impacts on immigrants’ academic success; and finally, (d) the majority of the participants had either experienced or witnessed gender discrimination; however, many of them did not recognize it because of discrimination relativity, liminality, covert vs. overt discrimination, privilege, or fugitive culture.

Keywords: acculturation, higher education, neoliberal educational policies, 1.25- generation immigrants, third-wave Iranian immigrants, unistructure model of acculturation, discrimination relativity, involuntary immigrants