Conflict around the globe is causing many young refugees to miss out on college — in fact, only 7% get the chance. There are a lot of refugees in need, and Duolingo believes universities can help. But right now, there isn’t enough information about these students — how many there are, where they come from, or what their previous education was like. We need to fill in these blanks to make sure we're addressing the real issues and not just guessing.

That's where our new report comes in. We've partnered with the President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration to dig into these questions, and provide a model for how more institutions might support students who dream of higher education.

Filling gaps, building bridges

This comprehensive report, Do you know who your refugee students are? Mapping and understanding displaced students on U.S. campuses, delves into the existing challenges plaguing the expansion of higher education access for refugee students in U.S. universities.

The report reveals stark realities: a mere 7% of displaced students globally are enrolled in higher education, a glaring disparity compared to the 40% of non-refugee students. It's becoming increasingly important to tackle the growing humanitarian problem affecting people who've been forced to leave their homes and are seeking further education.

But existing national-level data fails to differentiate refugee students from other international peers, resulting in siloed initiatives and advocacy based on anecdotal evidence rather than concrete data. The report highlights the importance of gathering detailed data and working together across different sectors. 

The report serves the goal set by UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency. Their aim, known as the 15by30 initiative, is to have 15% of refugees enrolled in higher education by the year 2030. They're also dedicated to helping refugee students achieve their educational goals.

Making dreams reality: The Duolingo University Access Program

The report highlights the significance of initiatives like the Duolingo University Access (DUA) Program in tackling the global refugee education crisis. The DUA Program, launched in 2021 in collaboration with UNHCR, is in direct response to the call to help academically-qualified refugees access higher education. 

Working in concert with numerous U.S. universities, the DUA program offers refugee students dedicated guidance through the labyrinthine university selection, application processes, scholarship opportunities, and navigating the intricate F-1 visa interview process.

In its first year, the DUA Program cast a wide net, collaborating with UNHCR operations in Cameroon, India, Iraq, and South Africa to identify academically-qualified refugees. Out of 115 applications, 25 Duolingo Scholars representing seven countries of origin were selected following a meticulous process that included interviews with 64 finalists.

Through the DUA Program, the Scholars received an in-depth briefing on the global higher education landscape. The program's university advisor conducted extensive interviews to understand each student's skills and interests, helping them identify the best-fit universities in terms of curriculum, culture, and financial support. For some Scholars, American higher education represented the best fit. 

The guidance and support that the Scholars receive through the program continue beyond gaining admission. Once the Scholars enroll at university, we work closely with the institutions to ensure that their tuition fees and accommodation costs are covered. And we provide extra funds to cover things like plane tickets, clothes, computers, immunizations, and visa fees, so that they don’t just get to university, but they have all the support they need to succeed there long-term.

Stories of resilience and transformation

This comprehensive support has transformed these Scholars' outlook on their educational prospects. Asadullah from Afghanistan shares that he never thought he'd get admission in a country like the U.S., especially in a field like computer science. Yet, through the DUA Program, dreams are becoming reality, one Scholar at a time.

Having completed secondary education in their respective home countries or first countries of asylum, these Scholars found themselves facing language barriers and the high cost of education in their host countries. As Alimas from Burundi shared, it often felt that "each step of the process is like another mountain to climb," and achieving a higher education degree seemed impossible.

With the support of the DUA Program, these Scholars transformed obstacles into stepping stones, securing places at U.S. universities in their desired areas of study. Partnerships with over a dozen U.S. universities—Georgetown University and Macalester College among them—underscore the transformative potential of higher education for refugees and their unique contributions to campus communities.

Paving a path forward

In our collective pursuit of a fairer, more inclusive educational landscape, the DUA Program stands as a beacon of hope. Through partnerships, guidance, and unwavering support, it's redefining narratives and creating opportunities. The dreams of displaced students are not just lofty aspirations—they are goals within reach. So far, 20 Scholars in the inaugural year of the program have found universities where they can pursue their educational goals, and next year’s cohort is already hard at work preparing their applications.

For a more detailed understanding of our initiatives and collaborations, we encourage you to read our report! It underscores our commitment to addressing the educational inequities faced by refugees and offers a comprehensive view of our approach and strategies. Fifteen percent, here we come!