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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Understanding and Reducing Inequalities in Higher Education: Lessons from Hmong American College Student-Engaged Participatory Action Research

Despite efforts from U.S. colleges to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion to general student success and a healthy campus climate, students with minoritized identities continue to face considerable inequalities. The Hmong, Wisconsin’s largest Asian American group at 50,000 people, currently have lower K-12 and college educational attainment rates; for example, Hmong students at UW-colleges have lower 6-year graduation rates and are more like to be first-generation students and/or Pell Grant recipients (Smolarek, Vang, & Wolfgram, 2019).

To obtain a more grounded understanding of the factors influencing the success and wellbeing of Hmong American students at UW–Madison, the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions is partnering with Hmong American students to conduct a student-engaged, qualitative Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) project. College student-engaged CBPAR (Arman et al., 2020) involves collaboration between academic researchers and minoritized college students to understand and address their concerns and experiences; students are mentored to be researchers and lead the development of research questions, design, and analysis.

This proposal is to fund staff and student activists at colleges within the UW system for one year to investigate mechanisms that produce higher education inequalities for Hmong American students and engage in what we call counter-invisibility work. This involves reporting findings to support advocacy for specific policy changes that address factors producing inequalities that can be shared with students, educators, community members and administrators.


Matthew Hora, assistant professor of liberal arts and applied studies and affiliate the Department of Educational Policy Studies


Stacey J. Lee, professor for educational policy studies

Bailey Smolarek, associate researcher for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Matthew Wolfgram, associate researcher for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research